February 2, 2021 – Roger W. Lowther
As I walked through a garden on a hill overlooking the town of Otsuchi, Japan, birds flew overhead and the wind blew in gently from the sea. Leaves rustled on the trees, and the sweet aroma of flowers wafted through the air. I looked down to see goldfish swimming in a pond, and at the top of the hill I found a white glass-paneled phone booth.
Inside the booth, I saw an old black rotary phone, a newspaper article taped to the wall, small wooden blocks marking the date, and an open notebook with a pen. There was also a letter, a poem, written in Japanese.
Who will you talk to?
What words will you use?
Perhaps there are no words?
The telephone of the wind allows the heart to speak.
Make yourself quiet.
Close your eyes and open your ears.
Do you hear the sound of the wind?
Or the sound of the waves?
Or the chirping of a small bird?
If so, speak your thoughts,
And they will certainly reach their destination.
I continued to think about the words of this poem as I thumbed through the notebook, glancing at what people wrote. Most of the entries were brief, comments on the beauty of the garden or greetings from wherever they came from. But some were more personal.
When I left the booth, I saw a woman coming down the hill to greet me.
“Hello,” she called out.
“Hello,” I answered back and went on to explain. “I just happened to be in the area giving concerts at nearby temporary home complexes and heard about this place.”
“I see,” she said. “If you have time, I know my husband would love to meet you.” She pointed toward a small stone cabin, which reminded me of the shelters I often see on the mountains of Japan. As I began to climb the hill toward the cabin, a man who I assumed to be her husband came out to meet me.
He introduced himself and we chatted for a while before he invited me inside. After brewing hot green tea, he told me about the “Telephone of the Wind.”
“I built this phone to help me grieve the death of my cousin,” he said. “My thoughts couldn’t travel over regular phone lines, so I wanted them to be carried by the wind.” The very next year, the tsunami hit, and word about the phone booth spread from person to person. Soon, many visitors began to arrive.
In that cold little stone cabin, listening to story after story about the visitors, I felt an overwhelming sadness. So many came to this place hoping for one last chance to say goodbye. Their grief was as terrible as any tsunami, as destructive as any earthquake. Swallowed by waves of grief, their lives became like so much devastation I saw along the coast, ruined and empty.
I tried to imagine the people who visited, the time they spent in that phone booth and garden. Wind from the sea gently rustled their hair and caressed their skin. Though they couldn’t see it, they felt its movement. The wind surrounded them.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
In the original Greek, “wind,” “breath,” and “spirit” are all the same word. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, and his presence is like the wind. The Spirit of God is present in the very air that we breathe, always surrounding us. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We should not take even a single breath without being reminded of the movement and presence of God. He’s with us in our grief and sorrow, the ever-present and perfect grief counselor.
There is hope for those who mourn. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The comfort Jesus offers is not temporary. It’s not cozy or sentimental. Rather, it’s full of life and love beyond all our needs, and lasts for all of eternity.
Praise be to . . . the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
God gives a comfort deeper than we can fathom. Jesus bore our grief and pain so that it could be taken away. He died and rose again so that death would not be the end. We have hope in the resurrection, but not only that. In the night before he died, Jesus talked about “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in [his] name” (John 14:26 KJV). We will be comforted by the literal and unimaginably powerful presence of God.
Grief is the tragic result of this fallen and broken world, but in it we never have to be separated from the presence and beauty of God.
God listens to our cries of lament and our prayers without words. We are not alone in our grief. God is always by our side, covering us and surrounding us with his presence. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted with the everlasting presence of the living God.
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