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! 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.
There were also difficult days, too, 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, the sailor must 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 the wind’s biddings and blessings, the way in which it would have us go: this way and that, sometimes quickly and 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 local and 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).
Thus the wind and sailing become symbolic 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 His lead or receiving what is offered rather than seeking to control or 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 Ruah. 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 one’s 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, nor 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.
This is control; this is power. Here is the sailor alone with his own will, dependent on little and certainly on no other person. It is one man alone against the elements.
Motorboats are a mixed blessing, though. They require a good bit of gas, can be noisy, need maintenance, may suffer breakdowns, and can be downright dangerous to other things and people around them.
This is another image of our soul interacting with God. There are many who prefer to be under their own power, dependent upon no one but themselves, acting and operating independently. They prefer not to have to sense the direction of the winds, to watch for other signs, or to consider other factors.
Just as there are dangers 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. In their perceived power they often barrel 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, hoist their sails, and follow where He leads.
Each of us is 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.
*Image: King Nebuchadnezzar as a Wild Animal by an unknown artist, c. 1400-1410 [J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA]. The image refers to Daniel 4: 25-35: the prophet tells the king that he will lose his mind and live like a beast for seven years. The illustration is from Rudolf von Ems’ Weltchronik or “world chronicle” written in the mid-1200s.