When I was very young, perhaps 10 years old, I took some sailing lessons, and once again when I was in my early 30s. Sailing involves a kind of romancing the wind wherein one observes the wind as it is, and then adapts to it, wooing it, learning its moves, its vicissitudes, and its often subtle and changing signs.
Oh for the great times when the wind was with us! And catching the wind, the boat would speed along making a slick sound in the water. And Oh too, for those daring and thrilling times when the spinnaker was put out. The boat would almost strain, as the proud winds filled her arcing sail.
But then too, there were the difficult days when the winds were contrary and the hard work of tacking, with beating and jibing had to be engaged.
Now sailing is an image of receptivity. One cannot control the wind, but must simply accept it, and take it as it is. Yes, sailing requires a sailor to adjust to what is, to learn acceptance and work with what is given, to live in the world as it is, rather than wish for world as it ought to be.
The sailor must simply accept wind’s bidding and blessings, the way in which it would have us go: this way and that, now shifting directions, somewhat unexpectedly. And the good sailor is accepting that a good strong breeze, can suddenly grow becalmed, only to stir again. This is especially the case in the sultry summer days when the prevailing winds are less evident and the strength and direction of the winds can be very local, and very subtle.
Yes it is all very mysterious. Indeed Jesus used the wind as an image for mystery when he said to Nicodemus, The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (Jn 3:8).
And thus the wind, and sailing, become something of an image for the soul interacting with God. We cannot control God, nor should we. Our role is to sense His direction and put out our sails accordingly. We are to “romance the wind” by growing deeper in our love and trust of God. We are to discover the serenity of accepting what is, of following the lead of God, or receiving what is offered rather than seeking to control and manipulate outcomes.
Sometimes the wind of God’s Ruah, his Spirit and breath is a strong and refreshing wind as at Pentecost when Scripture says, And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were (Acts 2:4). At other times God speaks in a whispering breeze: And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12-13).
Yes, allow the wind to represent the movements of God’s Spirit, his Ruah, his breath. And God is looking for some good sailors who know the subtleties of the movements of the wind and can adjust accordingly.
Now since wind cannot be controlled and must simply be accepted for what it is, many therefore prefer motorboats. How much nicer it is to feel empowered from within and to be able to resolutely set our own course, no matter the wind. With a motorboat there is little or no threat of being at the whim of the winds. There is no need to relate to, or be in relationship with the wind, no need of romancing of the winds here! No here, with a motorboat, there is need only of driving forward with a powerful motor, following one’s own designs.
Here is control, here is power, here is the sailor alone with his own will, dependent on little, and on no one. It is one man against the elements.
But motorboats are a mixed blessing, they require a good bit of gas, can be noisy, require maintenance, suffer breakdowns and can be downright dangerous to other things and people around them.
And here too is another image for our soul interacting with God. For there are many who prefer to be under their own power, dependent on no one, other than themselves, preferring never having to wait on God or other human beings; just acting independently, and operating independently. They prefer not to sense the direction of the winds or of any other signs or factors.
And just like a motorboat, there are dangers associated with this sort of controlling image of the human person. For indeed such individuals can be noisy, gas-guzzlers, prone to breakdown, and potentially hazardous to things and people around them. For in their perceived power they often truck through life, missing its subtleties and frequently causing harm to themselves and others. “Breakdowns” are almost predictable with this sort of person.
Most people prefer a motorboat. But God is more in the sailboat business. He’s looking for some good souls to sense the breeze of his Spirit, is Ruah. And having sensed that Gentle Breeze, to hoist their sails and follow where the Wind, the Spirit, leads.
Yes, we are invited to be more like a sailor, following the Spirit’s lead. Yes, like a sailor, trusting and yielding to a Godly breeze.
Do you prefer a motorboat, or a sailboat? Are you a boater or a sailor.
Here is a remarkable video, not of a sailor at sea, but of a land sailor, a kite flier. Note the beautiful interaction of this man as he romances the wind, working with its subtleties and rejoicing in its moves, as in a great dance of sorts:
Related post: Is the Church a cruiseship or a battleship
18 Replies to “Is your Spiritual Life like a Sailboat or a Motorboat?”
Good day Msgr. Pope, your blog today reminds me of a dream last January about a race boat, participants have to reach the finish line in one direction. So a friend a mine won the race, but below his boat is my body holding on to the boat and i am immersed in water during the time he is on the race. My friend and i are into spiritual mission the task of which is to guide the people to the right teachings of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Joseph based his information on Canon law, catholic dogma and other teachings, while on my part i am trying to show to the people my Faith life as a member of the True Catholic Church based on the experiences i had with my God. thank you for the signs Msgr. God bless you always.
You left out the cruise ship, on which one is waited upon hand and foot. Anything one wants at any time! Activities for every interest! As the latest Carnival disaster illustrates, however, the promised royal treatment is something of a trap. The gourmet meals are replaced by spare provisions; the comfortable rooms become filled with waste; the airy decks become crowded camps. One can’t help but think of the classic joke in which the deceased chooses Hell rather than Heaven, only to find out that the promised fun and comforts were but an illusion.
I think that I will not venture out onto the sea at all! Perhaps I will paddle a kayak on a nice calm lake. Or better yet, a take nice hike through the woods.
You may reacall that I DID actually write a post on asking if the Church were a cruise ship or a battleship
I thought it was an ark B.C. and a fishing sail boat A.D.
One hopes the crew on the battleship is better prepared to respond to an engine failure…
God provides the wind, but man must raise the sails. [St. Augustine]
The video looks like a good back-up act for the Blue Angels now that the sequester cuts have cancelled their appearances. Green energy finally pays off. Intimidating.
An interesting analogy, but what is the difference between being and independent self motivated individual and having a healthy sense of self determination i.e. using you own God given talents/common sense to sort your life out and faith, surrender to Gods will in living a spiritual life????? I would welcome any comments on this.
Simile and metaphor ae not absolute forms of speech. Rather, they take a quality and highlight it for admiration or attention while not excluding all other categories. Hence to highlight receptivity in our relation to God is not to exclude the virtues you have highlighted especially when they relate to our human initerrelations. Hence to say “A is good” is not to say that B, C, and other possible ideas are bad under any and all circumstances. Such a conclusion would show a lack of appreciation for the sublety of human speach and the place of metaphor and simile
Our son-in-law loves to sail when vacationing back east in the summer and we were privileged to be with him while he displayed how it is done. Please pray for him to be open to the Holy Spirit.
I have used the image of a sailboat mainly because I find progress is seldom in a straight. Line. You have developed the image much more fully. Thank you.
If you’re tempted by motorboats and need a lesson in detachment, take a look at the man behind the kites – a real lesson in humility:
more gratuitous ‘goodstuff’
Warning one off-color jest (never a gynecologist, he was an orphan, a very young WWII vet, then a meat packer in England before emigrating with wife and kids to commonwealth Canada)
Beautiful reflection, and I have never seen such magnificent kite-flying … thank you.
The beautiful video reminds me of the Trinity and the missions of our Triune God. The Father sends the Son trhough the power of the Holy Spirit (Incarnation) and the Son reveals the Father, buys our salvation (Cross) and sends us his Spirit (Pentecost) so we can say ABBA, and become sons and daughters of the Father. Sometimes the Divine Persons act alone, sometimes together just like the kites.
Thank you Monsignor! You evangelize through beauty
One could say that the Holy Spirit is also like gasoline and we should be prepared either to sail or motor.–one being sort of an outward sense and the other being more of an inward sense. We should keep are paddles, safety vests, and life boats handy. Those are for when we need to go to Confession.
It seems way too easy to behave like a motorboat when one should be like a sailboat and vice versa.
I am a sailboat wannabe. My motor keeps pushing me. Would rather be on the wings of the wind. Guess I need to just listen at The Eucharist, and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. I feel a need to “do something” but need to just relax listen to the silence and the quiet breeze.
Even with listening, it seems that my motorboat wants to take charge. Seems be be stuck in the “pray always” gear.
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