There has been lots of boatie talk in our fair city recently, and although I don’t really have any sea legs or much of an idea about skippering and sailing skills I do know a good metaphor when I see one.
How’s it going?
From plain sailing to total shipwreck; stuck in the doldrums to safely in harbour; anchored, adrift, scuppered, storm tossed, run aground, into the wind… there are so many ways that the journey of life and faith lends itself to nautical comparisons. It can be a moment of deep insight and honesty to consider the question:
What kind of vessel am I journeying in right now? What is my sense of where I am, what is happening and how I am making my way?
Here are some options to give you a sense of the scope available to you, but if none of these quite fits, I suggest you visit one – or two – of these sites and search for boat/water/ship or whatever search term is likely to bring you closest to images that resonate for you. And of course, there’s always google images if you aren’t planning to infringe any copyright laws.
Going Solo and the Trials of Teamwork
This metaphor works for your own personal journey, and it also works for community. In a conversation about church the other day I used the image of a yacht with an outboard motor. It seems to me that the minister’s role has been to keep the motor running, chugging through Sunday services and the liturgical calendar. The journey is as predictable as we can make it, a yearly tour around the safe harbour. But it’s a yacht with the built in capacity for catching the wind if we were only willing to learn how to hoist the sails and pay attention to where we feel the wind blowing. Where the wind takes us is the wind’s business to know and ours to discover. The person I was talking with had some stakes in the value of the motor running version, so my perspective was hard to receive, but they were able to recognise some truth in it.
A question for community, then:
What’s been my experience of how my community as a whole has been journeying – what is the shape and feel of the vessel and the way it moves as we are carried by it?
Jumping ship, disembarking, walking the plank
Richard Rohr talks about the pattern of the journey into wisdom as having three stages – Order – Disorder – Reorder. These are stages that life offers us the opportunity to move through, but we can resist the invitation. That might mean we cling to an ordered life even when it is deeply painful. We may cheerfully deconstruct an ordered world view/ belief system and then lose momentum and get stuck in disorder, repeatedly pulling things apart but not sifting through for things to keep/ re-work/re-evaluate. And, having gone through that process once, we may resist moving through it again knowing that it was hard, lonely, painful and slow.
When disorder happens, you may find that you choose to disembark and watch the church ship sail away. The captain runs the ship in a way that no longer seems to fit for you. The formal dinners, the entertainment for the kids, the opportunities to learn, play, interact leave you feeling empty or angry or meh. Or you maybe jump ship a few times – try a different set up, give something else a go. Or it could be that you are pushed out because of your unorthodox opinions and your inability to keep those quiet.
Re-ordering takes conscious effort. It’s building with new and old blocks and finding ways to fit these together. You have to search and not stop. It’s trusting the compass and your experience and making the map as you go. And you have to want it enough to commit and persevere.
The letting go, surrendering and opening that are part and parcel of the healing and transforming journey of faith ultimately offers us everything that our heart’s desire and along the way asks us to give away everything that we think our heart’s desire.
The Christian faith is a hard sell. No wonder we found ways to soften it, offer short cuts, formulae, programmes and rewards to make it seem more appealing.
Where do I see signs of ‘settling’ or perhaps of getting stuck in one of these stages? In the past, what have been the things that have pushed or moved me on? How have I kept momentum and what has helped me persevere?
Lectio with Thomas
There’s a Jesus saying that gospel writers Matthew and Luke both record about asking, seeking and knocking. The gospel of Thomas (translated by Leloup) records a somewhat different version:
Whoever searches must continue to search until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed; and being disturbed they will marvel and will reign over All.
The same but different may enough that you find something catching your attention and drawing you into deeper reflection. If so, stay with that and read on when you are ready. But it may be that the difference is simply bewildering, so here are some compass points for you to get your bearings by:
Searching is a quest, being a seeker is what gives meaning to life…God is hidden in plain sight and yet even when found there is always more to discover…do not stop.
Finding is not the end but the beginning…to seek is already to find…we recognise what we already know and we know it again at a deeper level.
Being troubled moves us beyond what we think we know and understand and can control. Being troubled opens us to wonder.
Wonder is the beginning of wisdom and creates a space for resonance and union within the Mystery who is God, who is All in All.
Interconnectedness and the willingness to stay in the movement of the quest is the quality of being that ends with reigning over All.
So, return to the saying and see what draws you in, what invites you to pause and reflect.
Hide and Seek
God is a hidden treasure who longs to be found and known. So maybe God is playing with you. Choose a day to be the seeker, to make a conscious search wherever you go, whoever you are with to find God again and again. Where have you not looked? Sometimes God hides really, really well….
Pause with a poem
There are several parables and teaching sayings about searching. This poem offers a new perspective to dwell with and to savour.
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.R. S. Thomas
To explore how the seeking and the finding are the same, try walking a labyrinth. If you can’t get to a labyrinth, try making one in your house. The point is not to arrive somewhere, but to journey into the centre and back again, so even if you only have one room to work with, this should be achievable.
Begin by bringing your awareness into your feet until you can actually feel them tingling with the connection. Aim to keep your attention on the experience of moving, and each time you find that your attention has wandered away, bring it back by re-establishing the connection with your feet. You can also try internally saying to yourself ‘I am here’.
It’s not about staying steady in your attention, it’s about returning, persevering in the quest to move toward the centre with awareness.