Is your spiritual life like a motorboat or a sailboat?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was very young, perhaps 10 years old, I took some sailing lessons, and then 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. 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, beating, and jibing had to be engaged.

Now sailing is an image of receptivity. One cannot control the wind; one must simply take it as it is. Yes, sailing requires the sailor to adjust to what is, to accept, to work with what is given, to live in the world as it is rather than wishing for the world as it ought to be.

The sailor must simply accept the wind’s bidding and blessings, the way in which it would have us go, this way and that, shifting directions somewhat unexpectedly. And the good sailor accepts that a strong breeze can suddenly die down only to stir again shortly thereafter. 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 sailor adapting to the wind becomes something of an image for the soul interacting with God. We cannot control God, nor should we try to. 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, of receiving what is offered rather than seeking to control and manipulate the outcome.

Sometimes the wind of God’s Ruah (His Spirit and breath) is as strong and refreshing 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. 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 prefer motorboats. How much nicer it is to feel empowered from within and able to resolutely set one’s own course no matter the wind! With a motorboat there is little or no threat of being at the mercy of the wind. There is no need to relate to, or be in relationship with, the wind. No need of “romancing of the wind” here! With a motorboat, there is only the need to drive forward with the powerful motor, following one’s own designs.

Here is control; here is power; here is the boater alone with his own will, dependent on few things and 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, need maintenance, suffer breakdowns, and can be downright dangerous to people and other things 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 They prefer never having to wait for God or other human beings, acting and operating independently. They would rather not have to sense the direction of the winds, watch for other signs, or consider other factors.

And just as is the case with 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 people and things around them. For in their perceived power they often truck through life missing its subtleties and causing harm to themselves and others. “Breakdowns” are almost predictable with these sorts of people.

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, His Ruah, and having sensed that gentle breeze, to hoist their sails and follow where the wind—His Spirit—leads.

Yes, we are invited to be more like sailors following the Spirit’s lead. Yes, like sailors, 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. Watch the beautiful interaction of this man and the wind as he “romances” it, working with its subtleties and rejoicing in its moves in a sort of great dance.

3 Replies to “Is your spiritual life like a motorboat or a sailboat?”

  1. Wonderful analogy! I am not a sailor but you described it so well I can imagine it.
    I struggle with a motor-boat personality and know from experience that when you are broken down and drifting,
    if you call out to Him, God will blow you to where you are supposed to be.
    God Bless you!

  2. Thank you for the easy to grasp depiction of spiritual truths !

    That theme of ‘ motor boat ‘ – wonder if in an insidious manner , same has come in, in the almost idolatrous idea that offering frantic praise to God , to get what one has been promised to get ‘right now ‘ is true worship !

    The biblical reference is ofcourse to Peter and Paul getting released from jail – very likely that they did same, not with the intent to get God to get them released right away but because , even in jail , they were so full of awe and gratitude to God !

    The theme of ‘use praise , to get.. and right now ‘, – thus serving to make oneself the focus , as an indirect form of idolatry , possibly has come in from Prot .channels ..who, in turn could have been remotely affected by those who have used their role and power as Heads of the Divided Churches , who succumbed to the cleverly deceptive powers set against The Church with the related ‘user ‘ mind set !

    Thank God for Holy Mass that uses the well balanced theme of repentance, gratitude , praise and supplication and we can all ask The Spirit to lead us on, in His gentle paths , of having true love and reverence for God and His truth !

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