Sunday, May 2, 2010

Launching out into the deep

Meditating on Leigh’s forthcoming graduation from St. Joseph’s University in the next couple of weeks and the start of my own new life journey in retirement causes me to recall our days of sailing. It was this time of year that Lindsay and Leigh would help me sand and paint our sailboat’s bottom, re-teak some of the wood and make sure all the lines and related equipment were “ship-shape” (cleaned oiled, tightened, replaced, tested and readied for our launch.)

Vessels are launched when they are ready to set sail. They also use the terms christening or commissioning for the launching of new or refurbished vessels that have been on journey and need to retreat and be revitalized. Regardless of the vessels age it is a significant event and in many ways spiritual. The vessels have been prepared to handle the waters and winds that will carry them on their adventures on the open sea. The care and love that has gone into preparing the vessels for the days of smooth sailing and potential rough weather in the unchartered waters is only surpassed by the preparedness, care and skill of the vessel’s helmsman and crew.

There comes a moment in time where the vessel and crew are said to be “ready as ready” can be and the vessel needs to be launched out into the open waters to begin her journey. All the plans and preparation are just that now, plans and preparation.
The great adventure is to begin and if there is one thing to be sure it is that the vessel and crew will be tested. The ambiguity and possible fear of the unknown could hold the vessel back from launching .If she is launched any anxiety that surfaces about the future will have a negative impact on her potential safety and the possibility of enjoying the pleasures and grace of Poseidon on beautiful days on the open sea.

OK the waters may not be completely unchartered but for this particular vessel it is all new. The crew who may be untested and how the vessel will handle on the waters are not completely known. So with the launch comes a leap of faith and hope. Other vessels have reported rough passages but also fair weathered cruising and some have returned filled with wonderful stories of new lands, adventures and filled with treasures. Some report seeing the remains of others scattered on distant rocky shorelines of a new world and there are others have not been heard from after their initial launch. So what’s the point of the vessel if she is not to set sail? Is she to stay at dockside in a safe harbor until her hull begins to weather and rot and decay from non-usage?

Sailing requires knowledge, skill, preparation, a desire for adventure and the ability to soak in the peace and serenity of a warm sun accompanied by the gentle breath of God. Sailing requires patience, an abundance of appreciation for nature and an unending trust in oneself and God. Sailing is fun, thrilling and peace filling. It is also important to develop the intellectual side and understand some of the scientific principles behind sailing including; Bernoulli’s theorem, mathematical plotting of course setting considering wind, current and tides, astronomy and, basic meteorology. Almost more importantly a good sailor needs to trust…trust her intuition, her knowledge and her faith. Sometimes, as with in rough weather where the helmsman feels that she may have lost control of the vessel, she needs to trust completely and do something that for most is counterintuitive and that is to “let go” …of the helm. The result will be that the vessel will head up wind and right herself.
Try it sometime. The success of our passage will be measured by not how well we developed the skill of sailing (or living) or how fast we made it from here to there or the treasures we accumulated but “how “ we sailed (lived.) Did we make the journey with compassion, integrity and unselfishness?

So is it any wonder that why we celebrate launches, christenings, confirmations, commencements, graduations, weddings, new jobs, promotions, the first game of a sport season and even retirement? There are some groups who celebrate a death of family member or a friend. In reality they recall the fond moments of the person’s life but in some cases there is absolute delight that the great new voyage to forever has begun. These celebrations are centered around events that honor the transformation that is taking place: the caterpillar to butterfly; egg and seed become being; the girl to woman; the boy to man; and, the naive meanderer or latent sinner who becomes the illuminated pilgrim serving others with inspired unselfish love.
A launching has commenced. They are all celebrations of hope and delight.

Fr. Bill P. recently reminded the small gathering at liturgy at Loyola in one of his homilies that we are all commissioned to “launch out into the deep….” (Luke 5:4) with trust and enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek “en theos” or “in (with) God.” Consider carefully constructing and preparing a vessel just to leave it tied up at dockside in a safe harbor and never to go out to venture on to the sea! Even if the sail is for a day cruise or a short sail, the purpose is to go out “into the deep,” …be what you are intended to be, be authentic, be that vessel that affirms for yourself and the world that you are here on the journey with love and trust in your heart.

So this is for Leigh and her friends, who are graduating,
for Lindsay who has “launched” into the world of work,
and for all graduates, those who are being christened, women who became mothers,
the first communicants, newlyweds, those laid off from work, those retiring and anyone who is launching out into the deep on a new journey…hoping that you are prepared, and ready and that your seas are calm and your adventures are filled with wonder, peace and love.

I have adapted my favorite prayer for your launching…

“MY LORD GOD, we all have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so. But I pray that we all believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And hope we have that desire in all that we are doing. I am hopeful that that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road, though we may know nothing about it. Therefore, I pray that we will all trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death and that we will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.”

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
© Abbey of Gethsemani

Painting – Breezing Up, Winslow Homer


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