Wednesday, October 03, 2007

October 3, 2007 - Catching the Wind

Yesterday evening, Claire and I had a wonderful time with our friends Myrlene and Eric, who invited us out on a sunset cruise on the Toms River, on their sailboat, the Pequod. (For the record, things are a lot more relaxed on this boat than on the original Pequod, of Moby Dick fame. I said to Claire, as we were boarding, that if there's a gold coin nailed to the mast, I'm getting off right now. There was no such thing. It was a metal mast.)

Eric loves to teach people how to sail. His idea of a good time is letting his guests steer the boat as much as possible, while he and Myrlene see to the ropes. Consequently, either Claire or I was at the wheel nearly the whole time.

I hadn't been out on a sailboat more than once or twice, since my days taking sailing lessons at the Toms River Yacht Club when I was a kid (my parents had a social membership there for a few years; we never did own a boat, other than a leaky, wooden dinghy with an outboard motor that my Dad used for fishing). It was amazing to me how much of the technique came back to me, all these years later.

One of the things I hadn't thought about for a while is how much indirection there is in a sailboat's progress. You always go in a straight line, but the straight line is rarely oriented precisely towards your goal. You tack up and down, in zigzag fashion, as the wind's direction dictates. It's kind of like the knight's move on a chessboard. There's a logic to it, but not the sort of logic you'd ordinarily expect.

The progress is also exquisitely slow. At times, you have the sensation of not moving at all, although a quick glance up at the full sails confirms you are getting somewhere, after all.

Eric and Myrlene take groups from their church (Morning Star Presbyterian, where Myrlene is pastor) out on the boat, and use it as an opportunity to teach not only sailing skills, but also a thing or two about faith. I'm still reflecting on something Eric said to us last night. He was remarking how, in sailing, you need to be attentive to the wind's direction, and orient the boat so as to catch the wind. He quoted Jesus' words in John 3:8: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes." Eric didn't complete the verse ("So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit"), but he didn't have to. We know it well.

Before I got sick, I used to delude myself into thinking my life is on a straight course, that my forward progress is as simple as driving a car down the road: point the tires in the desired direction, and off you go. Anything on the highway that threatens to change that course, like construction delays or heavy traffic, can lead to pointless frustration (even, for some, the infamous road rage). I had one professor in seminary who taught us that sort of goal-oriented behavior very explicitly, in his lectures. For him, it was all about making it to the tall-steeple church someday: the more influential the pulpit, the better. It's clear to me, now, that he considered ministry more of a career than a calling. He wouldn't have grasped Eric's point about needing to be attentive to the direction of the wind, and to set your course accordingly. He would have had us all roaring down the river in motorboats, churning up the water.

He taught us wrong. Ministry's not like that, at all: nor is life in general. We like to fool ourselves that we're in total control. Sure, we're in control of a few things: there's a rudder we can turn, there are ropes we can pull. Yet, there are certain times when, should we doggedly continue to point the prow directly at our intended destination, we'll only end up dead in the water, sails flapping helplessly in the wind.

Attend to the wind. Position yourself so as to catch it. It's the only way.


Anonymous said...

I am a sailor, but not a Christian. Sailing has taught me much about life and it's interesting to look at it through the prism of someone's faith as well. Thank you for sharing that.


VS said...

Good thoughtful post, Carl. Thanks.