Is Your Spiritual Life Like a Sailboat or a Motorboat?

When I was about 10 years old I took some sailing lessons, and then did so again when I was in my early 30s. Sailing involves a kind of romancing of the wind, wherein one observes it and then adapts to it, wooing it, learning its moves, its vicissitudes, its often subtle and changing signs.

Oh, for the great times when the wind was with us!  And then 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 there were also difficult days, when the winds were contrary and there was the hard work of tacking, beating, and jibing.

Sailing is an image of receptivity. One cannot control the wind, but must simply accept it, taking it as it is. Yes, sailing requires the sailor to adjust to what is, to learn to accept and 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 wind’s biddings and blessings, the way in which it would have us go: this way and that, and then shifting directions somewhat unexpectedly. The good sailor accepts that a good strong breeze can suddenly grow calm only to stir again moments later. This is especially the case in the sultry days of summer, when the prevailing winds are less evident and their strength and direction 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 of the soul interacting with God. We cannot control God nor should we try. 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 the outcome.

Sometimes 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. God is looking for some good sailors, ones who know the subtleties of the wind’s movements and can adjust accordingly.

Now because the wind cannot be controlled and must simply be accepted for what it is, many people 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 to no threat of being at the mercy of the winds. There is no need to relate to, or to be in relationship with the wind; there is no need of romancing the winds here! No, with a motorboat there is only the need to drive 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 other person. It is one man alone against the elements.

But motorboats are a mixed blessing. They require a good bit of gas, can be noisy, may require maintenance, may suffer breakdowns, and can be downright dangerous to other things and people around them.

And here, too, is another image of our soul interacting with God. For there are many who prefer to be under their own power, dependent on no one (including God) but themselves, acting and operating independently. They prefer not to have to sense the direction of the winds, watch for other signs, or consider other factors.

And just as with a motorboat, there are dangers associated with this sort of controlling person. Indeed, such individuals can be noisy “gas-guzzlers,” prone to breakdowns, and potentially hazardous to things and people around them. For in their perceived power they often truck through life, missing or ignoring its subtleties, and frequently causing harm to themselves and/or 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, His Ruah; to sense that gentle breeze, hoist their sails, and follow where it leads.

We are invited to be more like a sailor, following the Spirit’s lead—yes, like a sailor, trusting in 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 as this man romances the wind, working with its subtleties and rejoicing in its moves as in a great dance.

4 Replies to “Is Your Spiritual Life Like a Sailboat or a Motorboat?”

  1. Thank you Msgr.,

    One of the most beautiful videos I ever seen, and thank you for this most wise advice. May God grant us the grace to follow it’s win and the Spirit the strength and wisdom to persevere on it. Thank you!

    God Bless.

  2. Wow, Monsignor. The Lord is so subtle.
    And there is a great joy in dancing with Him this way.

Comments are closed.