In a rowboat, rowers row backwards. It is hard to see where you are going but clear to see where you've been. Perhaps that is a metaphor for life. We row backward because our bodies tend to have more muscle power in our shoulders and biceps which makes pulling a more efficient motion than pushing. Rowing backward helps rowers become less fatigued with more energy transferred to the oars. So, the vessel travels farther with each stroke. It seems to me that it behooves me in life to figure out how to utilize my best strength for the greater good. It is a vulnerable, flexible kind of strength. It trusts and cares for all.
There is a Hindu Proverb that says:
Help your brother's boat across, and lo! your own has reached the shore.
The universe is full of possibilities in life, relationships, and in Divine interaction. Our relationships can deepen and be altered over time. Relationships can also be exhausting and we can go in circles. It depends on how we row, doesn't it? Sometimes we move beyond our accustomed depth toward new attitudes, fresh opportunities, and key realizations. Life can be somewhat like learning to row and learning to swim. The water will support us if we learn to allow it. So, too, in relationship to Divine essence and creation, we are shaped for the better when we develop the faith necessary to float as well as strive in balanced proportions. Swimmers must learn to trust the waters that hold them. When I was very young, my dad taught me to swim. We often went to the big lake at Marble Falls, TX (now named Lake LBJ) where my uncle had a small cabin. Dad's idea was to just pitch me into the water off the pier with a little instruction and see if I could swim. There were no YMCA swim lessons or arm floaties in my family. No. it was the sink or swim tactic. I would not recommend this method to young parents but it worked for me. I did not feel afraid. My dad was right there giving reassurances and at the ready as he jumped in beside me. He said, take a deep breath and relax. Trust the air and water to hold you and let you float. Dog paddle he said. "It is easy. You can do it!" Fortunately, I did not sink and I have always been a good swimmer.
Like rowing and swimming, I learned early on that striving too hard with constant, repetitive effort, is not always the most beneficial way to live. It is helpful and life-giving to relax and allow myself to trust the subtle energies of love. I have learned that there is a need for a certain kind of vulnerability in relationships. To my mind, that vulnerability is needed to co-exist and thrive in relationship with each other, God, and the natural world around me. It is a flexible kind of strength. It is a deeper kind of awareness and trust. Much like an autumn leaf, I can trust the invitation and support of The Presence to carry me on the wind and move me gently forward.
Rivers and lakes have always been a big part of my life. They have carried me, entertained me, fed me, and refreshed me. To this day, I have chosen to live on a lake. We canoe and kayak from time to time. As I step into a watercraft, I trust that I will float and experience that free feeling of beauty, delight, and possibility. What will I see in that moment? Fish jumping out of the water. Birds soaring among the cliffs. The sun making the water glimmer and come alive. I am held by the water. I am stilled by the water. I am known by the water no matter how I row and how I swim. I can choose to struggle or I can choose to float.
Prayer: Creator of this vast universe, help me to find my rhythm in a flexible kind of strength. When I struggle, help me to remember, I can trust the water to hold me. Help me to find my way even as I row backward into an unknown future. Amen
The Water is Wide
Build Me a Boat that can carry Two And both Shall Row, My Love and I
Love is Rowing Together
When love is young, and even when love grows old and fades, says the song, people can row together. All they need is a boat.
Nita Gilger shows the individual side of rowing and its needed flexibility. Sometimes we can try too hard: "striving too hard with constant, repetitive effort, is not always the most beneficial way to live. It is helpful and life-giving to relax and allow myself to trust the subtle energies of love."
Trusting the subtle energies of love is a kind of rowing, too. It is letting the water lead.
The same applies to when groups of people row together. Couples, like individuals, need flexibility, and so do communities of people. A family, for example, is an act of rowing together; a gathering of friends is an act of rowing together; we might even hope that a nation of people might row together. They, too, will need the flexibility Nita Gilger describes. They will need to trust the subtle energies of love.
What is the water on which we row? The metaphor can vary in its meanings.
On the one hand, the water can be life itself, with its vicissitudes of pain and pleasure, happiness and sadness, justice and injustice, hope and fear, struggle and ease. We can't always trust the water, when viewed as life's ups and downs, but we can work with life, with God's help.
On the other hand, we can also imagine the water as God: that is, a womb-like ocean in whose heart we live and move and have our being. This is panentheism. If we imagine God this way, then faith itself is trusting the water. It is trusting the subtle energies of love.
Even when we trust in these energies, we must row in the waters of life, both painful and pleasant. Who knows where the strength comes from, in times of stress and pain?
As a process theologian, I cannot help but think that the strength comes from the very One to whom Nita addresses her prayer: "help me to find my rhythm in a flexible kind of strength." God is also a rhythm-giver and a fellow Rower. We are rowing together.
Back to the song and its image of lovers rowing together. Is it two who row in the boat? Maybe so. But perhaps it is three. Perhaps it is "My love" and "I" and the invisible yet loving healer who calls from ahead, yet dwells within each of us, not rowing for us, but giving us energy for rowing with the subtle energies of love and with the appropriate rhythms. We row with flexibility, with openness, without ever being sure what the destination is, but rowing with a certain kind of faith.
Thus we have a fresh image of faith. faith is trust in the subtle energies of love, flexibly, in rhythm with the divine Rower. As a Christian I think that Jesus was a rower, too. His healing ministry was an invitation for us to row with him, trusting in the energies, however wide the water.
The waters of life are very wide today, and sometimes very turbulent. It is time to build boats and cross over, in faith, trusting in the subtle energies and rhythms of love.