regarding a soulful presence in difficult times...

The Mariner's Hope

I think our souls are often like ancient open wood boats that ride the waves of birth and living, and dying and death. Most of the time our journey is one of an ordinary magnificence, rocked gently by the slow rise and fall of a life lived in the midst of so much more than our own being.  

Sometimes, though, in rough waters, but also the calm stillness of the journey from here to there, we run onto the rocks; or we scrape across too-shallow shoals, or a great unseen wave turns our vessel belly up in the darkest night. A child dies. A relationship is lost. The anticipated future is undone in some simple but decisive way.  Sometimes the wreck is so complete, and the boat sinks beneath the tide. To those left behind in such moments it seems like those whose lives have capsized are swept away from all that calls them home in spite of the most heroic efforts.

Most of the time, though, such adversity is enough only to cause a small hole in our craft. Still, water rushes in and it seems like we might sink beneath the swells. The fear of being lost is overwhelming and this fear alone almost consumes us. But time goes by and we do not sink.  Our soul is broken open just a wee bit, and, strangely, we are not undone. In these times, the water of grief swirls around our feet and the icy cold upon our ankles sends an awakening shiver up through our gut to the end of even each hair upon our head.  We feel life like we have never felt it before, hollow and undone mingling with a strange new energy and purpose for being. We are momentarily stalled between a startling sense of defeat and a faint courage that all may not be lost in the end.  It seems our boat is more sturdy than we could have ever imagined, even if we are still sinking. After all, we are still alive enough to feel the utter horror of our predicament. And a hunch arises that we might just make it in off such dark and deep waters, after all.  

So, we turn for home lest the gape in our hull gives way to greater catastrophe. We seek the shore for refuge; a place to make repair. And, all the way in we find ourselves filled with a hope that is beyond our own certainty. We feel the water deepen around our feet. But things most precious to us beckon us, drive us homeward; visions of a love that is waiting for us, memories of children expecting a good night kiss; a deep knowing that even amidst our loss there is more love ahead of us than heartache behind us.

Even when the fog settles in and doubt clouds our vision of any harbor’s safety, still such love reaches out into the darkness and fills us with new energy. The chill of our condition even acts to wake us to greater awareness and wisdom. We find what we can to stuff the holes and delay the flooding tide. Still it comes. Still, we race on within the ragged condition of that which keeps us afloat. The shore draws ever near. Even when we cannot see the beach, the thunder of the surf increases as each new swell is overcome.

Usually, we make it. Uncommon is the one who does not make it home, eventually, eternally, into the heart of what matters most in the end. But still it seems an amazing thing. To hear the gravel of the beach slide up under the wooden hull and know we will now sink no deeper on this trip than we have thus far known. Stiff. Numb. But alive. Now, the shivers come less from cold, and more from the too thin protection of the vale that has been separating life from death.

It is a more sure thing in our minds that we will know better days ahead. The boat will be repaired. Other voyages into the swells of life’s waters will be enjoyed.  Still, we are not quite safe. On land, the cold can still kill us if we do not take care and get home. Thus, stumbling, wet and chilled, we make our way over every slippery rock and mound of knotted kelp.  

Up onto the road we hobble. Almost home, and yet bent to a stoop by the driving rain in our face and the lie of failure upon our heals. The ache of our bones tempts us to stop now and then, even though it is in stopping that communion with the hearth fires of our homes is kept still distant. And the truth is, resting in such moments does not bring ease to our soul. Nightmarish visions come to us of exhausted pilgrims stopping beside the road, within a stone’s throw of the nearest inn, too tired to go on, coldness clouding judgment. We’ve heard the fireside tales of warning in which such moments of pause ended only when exhaustion was traded for a death, and the inn was never reached.

So we continue to move on. Step by step. We remind ourselves that salvation often works this way too. A slow plodding journey through the storm, when help is so close and yet so difficult to reach. Each step becomes an impossible simplicity; each effort so common and yet so vital. Watching only the path in front of us, eyes drawn down away from the goal toward only the most imminent action. Until one more stride stumbles up to the front gate, then to the front door, and finally into the arms of the Beloved who never dreamed we would never be here in this precise moment of intimate greeting.  

Behind us is a history of adventure. Ahead of us are stories waiting to be written with our lives, our souls, our faith. For the present moment, though, what matters most is that we are alive, and loved. And this truly is enough.

© Warren Lynn.

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