"Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat so small."
The Breton Fisherman’s Prayer
This week while spending time with a friend he mentioned a phrase I'd not heard or thought of in a very long time. He said, "I've been looking at all the things I have and I am lightening the lifeboat." He was clearing out what he determined to be the clutter collected around his house over the years.
My friend was referring to a drill known to people of the water; it's called" lightening the lifeboat." Which means if something isn't elemental to your living, it goes overboard. There is a simple prayer, "Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat so small." This prayer emphasizes the meaning of lightening the lifeboat, given the vastness of the sea, the lighter your boat, the greater the chances you stay afloat.
In the tradition of the Old Testament the sea represents many things, elemental and dark powers, and the forces of chaos, until the Spirit of God moves over the waters establishing order from which teeming life then comes forth. The sea also is symbolic of our separation from God. Jonah sought to escape God by going to sea.
Later in the New Testament, Jesus calls on Peter to join him walking on the sea’s surface, to stroll on over across the waters of The Galilee. Peter gets out of the boat and begins walking on the water, but within a few steps he begins to sink into the sea. Something again takes the enlightened Peter as he begins across the surface; something weighs him down, causing him to again sink into the chaos.
I feel for Peter. It’s hard enough to keep the boat afloat, but to then get out of the boat, and walk on the water’s surface? Until I get to the point where I can walk on water, above the chaos of daily life, I’ll work to keep the boat in shape. I’ll be lightening the lifeboat.
How many times have I seen my life adrift on the chaos of the sea? Who doesn’t know the difficulty staying afloat on the chaos of life, where disappointments or loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or some unimaginable calamity besets us? Who hasn’t had the order of life thrown into complete utter upheaval? How many times has the vessel of life been tossed up and down on the stormy waves of chaos, crashing onto our little boats, soaking us as the boat fills with water threatening to sink it?
I have seen many storms. I have been adrift for long periods of time in the vastness of the sea. Many times I’ve found myself lightening the lifeboat. Much of the stuff I’ve chunked overboard has been the weight of material things which weigh down the boat, making it sluggish and slow to respond. Unnecessary weight drops the gunnels dangerously close to the water. Then when the big wave hits all that stuff I don’t need, or really want, will sink my boat before I have a chance to bail even one cup of water.
I've been lightening the lifeboat of much emotional stuff as well. This is a good thing as the emotional stuff carries even more weight than all the material stuff I could ever fill the boat with.
Anger, unresolved guilt, anxiety and frustration, all fearful dead weight putting me and my boat at danger in the first moments the sea threatens. So overboard with all that weighty mess which does nothing to sustain me.
In lightenting the boat I've also noticed that the collecting of thought and theology, especially my former orthodoxy, ultimately began to bear down on my little boat. This is not to say that ignorance or mindlessness is the preferred state. Actually the opposite is truer for me as it takes an active and curious mind to discern where the intellect is most helpful in living spiritually, as practicality, living the intentional loving life of a servant to creation, as Jesus directs me a Christian, to do.
For me living my life fully isn’t to blankly deny the realities of the world, the chaotic sea of life, but to figure it out myself and live it out through my prayer, discernment and actions. Nor is it to passively give up my responsibilities to decide and act over to someone else’s understanding or beliefs. Neither is my life fully realized in pursuing my intellectuality for intellectuality’s sake alone.
The challenge for my intellect is to find the ability to better love creation in what I do. It is in thoughtfully discerning the realities of life, science and leaps of faith, to understand how they contribute to, or diminish, my ability to better participate in the love of God, me and creation. In this way my intellect partners with my spirit to better understand the complexities of a world which makes greater and faster demands upon my life.
My spirit also reminds me to slow down and reconnect to the Spirit in contemplative prayer, in prayer with the community and prayer for the well being of the world and creation apart from my troubles, needs and desires. In such prayer I also come to better know and own the consequences of what I do, which also is lightening the boat.
To forgive the unforgiven and myself is to be lightening the lifeboat.
I strive to make wise decisions as I am lightening the lifeboat. I realize it’s much more than about being ordered, it is being intentional. Order without intention is merely bridled chaos. My real satisfaction and happiness can’t be sustained only through orderliness alone, but found instead through the joy of intentionally living for love, peace and justice.
Of course the lifeboat is my heart. Though the Spirit is its buoyancy, I can weigh it down and sink it like a stone. I have to keep the boat that is my heart light and nimble, trusting the buoyancy of the Spirit to keep it afloat on the chaotic waters around me. I must trust in God’s love, our love, to sustain me and help me in the space of my boat to gather and sustain those who’ve fallen overboard. When I fall overboard, I need to trust those who reach out to me.
When I attended Regent’s College in London, there was an old and beautiful pub I knew called The Friend At Hand. Its sign portrayed a strong arm and hand reaching out from the bow of a lifeboat to all who pass by. We Christians should be a friend at hand, reaching out over the chaos to any who want a hand and pull them aboard. We are wise in the Spirit, there is plenty of room and we have all we need.