“Accept being shipwrecked.”
Ah, yes, I think, as I come to this line in my morning reading. This wisdom is stabilizing. And then I smile at the irony the wordplay, a small gift of whimsy, ribbon wrapped around the greater gift of perspective.
For the past 16 years, I have spent the mornings of late November and December – the Advent season – in the company of a lovely book called Watch for the Light. It provides me daily readings from thoughtful writers, some ancient, some recent, but all pondering some aspect of the Biblical Christmas story.
This morning I came to a favourite: Brennan Manning’s reflection called Shipwrecked at the Stable. You see where my word play originated.
Brennan Manning is helpful to me on this dreary December morning when the view from my window is a curtain of grey cloud obscuring the horizon, the distant city, my general optimism. As is my practice, I’ve lit a few small candles and I appreciate more than usual their steady pinpoint of light.
Even more, I appreciate the light Manning sheds on our human predicament – at some point in some day, we all experience moments of anxiety, of being adrift in the rough sea that is life on earth, of flailing about for something to hang on to, something beyond the self assurance that we can save ourselves. At some point in some day I am certain we all know we cannot save ourselves. At least, I know that to be true for me.
And there seem more moments and more days at this stage of my life and in this stage of our world’s life, when this rings true to me. Our oceans are so polluted that dead turtles and whales are washing ashore, their bellies bloated with plastic. Babies in Yeman are starving because no one seems to have the willpower to bring an end to a senseless war. Millions of people are on the move, leaving homes that are not safe. And one country after another says, ‘you are not welcome here. Go away.’ But where will they go?
We humans are not very good at coming up with answers to our own problems. We cannot save ourselves.
In Brennan Manning’s Advent reflection, he quotes, Spanish writer José Ortega:
“The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from fantasy and looks life in the face, realizes that everything is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. Whoever accepts this has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order to the chaos of his life. “
When I feel lost, I pray. There are, among my friends, those who will charge me with foolishness when I do this – ‘Why isn’t God fixing this world?’ they ask me.
But I do believe there is a God. I believe he once came to us in the most intimate of ways – in the skin of a baby. I believe that he grew up to become a man who provided us with timeless perspective, asking us to live with justice and mercy and compassion toward one another. I believe he died, but that he also — miraculously — rose from the dead.
And I believe he lives on. Supernaturally. Spiritually. Beyond this world yet fully in it. When I’m feeling shipwrecked, prayer is my flotsam, providing me something to hang onto.
And that is better than nothing.