Image: Prince (1958-2016).

In 1993, the artist born Prince Nelson Rogers changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and announced that he was no longer to be referred to as Prince, but as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

‘The wind blows where it will …’

Bible study prepared by Andrew
March 2023.

Sunday March 5, 12-1pm.
See conversation notes below.

Thursday March 9, 7-8.30pm.
All welcome. At the manse or via Zoom.

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 858 1336 0721
Passcode: 032351

Reading: John 3:1-17.

Key texts: Genesis 1:31, Numbers 21:4-9.

Themes: wind/breath/Spirit … rebirth … salvation of the world/cosmos … serpents, pharmakon (remedy/poison) …

“As believers, we are summoned to respectful curiosity, to ongoing conversion … in the context of a sublime assertion of divine love (John 3:16). All this, of course, is signified in baptism … never a mere ritual but incorporation of children into a spirit-filled community” (Andrew Collis).

ALISON: Jesus calls attention to wind and breath, to lived experience in the world, in the spirit-filled world God loves.

What is this salvation?

ANDREW: The text recalls Genesis 1 and God’s declaring all creation good. Salvation as restoration – perhaps God taking responsibility (in Christ) for suffering in the world. How does the gospel invite human participation in the restoration? How might we hear the familiar words anew? “For God so loved the world …”?

CATHERINE: Serpents/snakes recall the story in Numbers where the raising of a bronze snake brings relief and healing to a people beset by snakes. The cure entails seeing/understanding the cause of suffering.

How does seeing the crucifixion – imperial violence, state-sanctioned violence, colonial violence – invite or initiate/activate salvation? What does believing in the Chosen/Crucified One mean in this context? Enacting solidarity with the victim/s? Resisting imperial/colonial lies/seduction?

ADRIAN: The serpent (in Hebrew, Greek and Indigenous wisdom stories) is a figure of cleverness, renewal, rebirth.

ANDREW: Is Christ some kind of serpent?

Jesus did encourage followers to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).

Catherine recalled the following poem:


A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough
            before me.
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over
            the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused
             a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels
            of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold
            are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink
            at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders,
            and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
            that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing
            himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed
            in an undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

Darkness and light
We also talked about darkness and light – dappled light … darkness as soft cover – safe, intimate … also secretive … Light as warmth, life-affirming space, illumination, insight … Nicodemus steps into the light …


When I was looking for a place to be born I was a cat
peering into cupboards,
hidden recesses,
quiet, dappled, soft
under cover of darkness.
Not for me the oh hello Uncle Arthur!
the welcome to a cast of thousands homebirth video,
the blow up paddling pool and the children agog.
And neither the hospital
bright, sterile and plain

and I might have preferred candlelight
and I might have preferred purple rain

Wisdom was there when you made
night and day, day and night.
Wisdom that deceives
and is its own antidote.
Wisdom that bites and heals.
I see, I feel, I listen and know the shame
Holy Mary, mother of God!
This giving birth, this being born!
The darkness a gift as I sigh and cry and slouch towards Bethlehem
and the Spirit groans with me in the pangs and pain

and I might have preferred candlelight
and I might have preferred purple rain

Can I bear the light of day?
And it’s here right now, whether or not.
Out of the safe, comforting watery womb,
and I am blindsided by the truth of what living might require.
And the Spirit is coursing
and the wind is blowing
and I go down into the water
and the chaos is inescapable.
And nothing will ever be the same.

and I might have preferred candlelight
and I might have preferred purple rain

The ‘Hongi’
The ‘Hongi’ is a traditional Maori greeting in New Zealand used by the Maori people. To hongi you press your nose and forehead together with the nose and forehead of the person you are greeting. Many people of Maori decent prefer to hongi, instead of shaking hands. 

The origins of the hongi can be traced back in Maori folklore to the creation of humankind. The first woman created by the gods was Hineahuone, “earth formed woman” so called as she was shaped out of the earth. The god Tane embraced Hineahuone and breathed life into her nostrils.

When Māori greet one another by pressing noses, the tradition of sharing the breath of life is considered to have come directly from the gods. Through the exchange of this physical greeting, one is no longer considered manuhiri (“a visitor”) but rather tangata whenua, “one of the people of the land”.

Drawing breath
Drawing breath and wind patterns on violet Lenten prayer cards, we imagined storm clouds and purple rain …

Wind and rain … being born again or from above …

“Purple Rain” is a song by American musician Prince (1958-2016) and his backing band the Revolution. It is the title track from the 1984 album of the same name, which in turn is the soundtrack album for the 1984 film of the same name starring Prince, and was released as the third single from the album. The song is a power ballad that combines rock, R&B, gospel and orchestral music.

It was the final song he performed live, taking place at the end of his final performance in Atlanta on April 14, 2016, one week before he died.

Prince explained the meaning of the song as follows: “When there’s blood in the sky… red and blue = purple. Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love, and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain.”

“Prince recorded the great majority of his music entirely on his own, playing every instrument and singing every vocal line. Many of his albums were simply credited, ‘Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince’. Then, performing those songs onstage, he worked as a bandleader in the polished, athletic, ecstatic tradition of James Brown, at once spontaneous and utterly precise, riveting enough to open a Grammy Awards telecast and play the Super Bowl halftime show. He would often follow a full-tilt arena concert with a late-night club show, pouring out even more music.

“On Prince’s biggest hits, he sang passionately, affectionately and playfully about sex and seduction. With deep bedroom eyes and a sly, knowing smile, he was one of pop’s ultimate flirts: a sex symbol devoted to romance and pleasure, not power or machismo. Elsewhere in his catalog were songs that addressed social issues and delved into mysticism and science fiction. He made himself a unifier of dualities – racial, sexual, musical, cultural — teasing at them in songs like ‘Controversy’ and transcending them in his career.”

New birth = new consciousness
It’s the change from selfishness to love, and from a society based on selfishness to a society based on love (Ernesto Cardenal).

Lenten discipline and new beginnings
“Desert mothers and fathers went as an antidote to empire. Concerned by the post-Constantine trajectory of councils and accommodations, they went to gather on the edges, beyond the borders, as a people of story. They are known for their wisdom and storytelling that invite a pilgrimage of both body and soul, and not for their dogmatics” (Alison Bleyerveen).

“I feel a deep weariness with empire, and a deep weariness with corporation. I experience it as cognitive dissonance, confusion and grief. Practically, I feel both colonised and unwanted, unseen” (Alison Bleyerveen).

ALISON: Birth is difficult, complex. Historically, culturally, to what is the poet referring? What is prophesied? 

‘The Second Coming’

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Eleousa or Tenderness icon, in which the God Bearer (Theotokos) closely holds her young son, the Christ, is among the most well-known and beloved of icon types and resides in the nave of the church.

Leaving the narthex with its Old Testament icons to enter the nave, we encounter icons from the New Testament that teach and guide the faithful in understanding the new age after the incarnation of Christ.

Most exemplary are icons of Mary not only because she represents the pinnacle of wisdom, but also because there is a tradition among the holy fathers that the soul is feminine.

Christ says in the scriptures that “the Kingdom of God is within” (Luke 17:21) and “unless you are born from above, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (John 3:3).

Just so, the Theotokos serves, for the Orthodox faithful, as the primary symbol of being born from above: through her we discover the Logos Spermatikos that is within each person, for it is through Mary, the God Bearer, that Christ Emmanuel, God-With-Us, enters the world.

Icons of the Theotokos therefore represent what is possible for each person’s spiritual development and provide a pattern for the relationship between body and soul.