Sunday, October 2, 2011

Maelstroms trialacha (Maelstroms of trials)

It has been a week’s time since we cast off from the beloved shores of County Galway, from our home. Even so, I am tempted to think that it has been a year’s time, if not that of a fortnight and a half. Such realistic entertainment of a false truth is one example of what damage a nautical voyage can induce to one’s spirit, provided one allow such erosion. In all fairness, these bland thoughts are in mere infancy. After all, the sheer excitement of sailing the open ocean had enchanted me this past week. As I noted to my Christian brother Bréanninn a few days after we had cast off from our native Eire, I am grateful and thankful before our Lord to be a part of such a voyage. To that, Bréanninn concurred, but with a word of caution. This voyage will try your soul, he warned. It is like life: As a wave is a potential hindrance to the progress of a ship, so a given trial in life is a plausible stoppage to one’s advancement towards entrance into the eternal paradise that is heaven. In my prayer to the Lord, I pondered these words of caution. Indeed, I heed my brother Bréanninn’s words like as if they were from the Lord Himself. As I’m sure Bréanninn would have told me had he spoken further, it is with the Lord’s help that any wave can be overcome. After all, Christ once said, “‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea, and it would obey you’” (Luke 17.6). Through the Scriptures, I also understand the consequences that would ensue should I ask for the Lord’s help without faith: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1.6). It is all too fitting that the very waves that this leather boat has been cutting through this past week have failed to stop our holy voyage. They are aimlessly tossed about by the wind. Without my faith in the Lord, I would be as one of those waves.


One sea wave differs from another in size and intensity. Similarly, one tribulation differs from another one. Although all trials require the Lord’s aid, some waves, or tests, can be lightly tackled and overcome. Recently, I was tasked to write my first critical essay as a postgraduate theology student. Initially, handling this assignment didn’t seem easy, for a number of months had passed since I had completed my last academic essay. Complimenting this excuse was a shred of anxiety at the knowledge that this essay would be my first as a postgraduate student. Excitement and nervousness attempted to cloud my thoughts. That the construction of an academic essay is like riding a bicycle would be a fair simile to use to describe the outcome of this situation. Once I sat down to begin the necessary research to structure and write this paper, the anxiety departed from my being (with His aid). The result - a seven-page analysis on Genesis 18-19 - put to rest any doubts that clouded my thoughts. To me, the process of writing such an essay is like an ‘easy’ wave, or a light trial, that must be overcome. Compared to other tests, this one proved not to be as heavily taxing on my soul as I had initially surmised. Despite that conclusion, the trial still required me to trust in the Lord. As the apostle Paul once wrote, “‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’” (Philippians 4.13).

In contrast to the light 'wave' of writing an essay, the Lord also expects me to overcome more significant ones. The larger waves are typically found during thunderstorms or hurricanes in the open ocean. It is how one approaches these sort of waves that one experiences the greatest spiritual growth - or decrease. The Lord particularly enjoys helping one through the more powerful waves, for His desire is to see all men love Him dearly. Even though He realizes that a man cannot undeniably be “‘perfect, just as [He who] in heaven is perfect’” (Matthew 5.48), He also knows that a believer ought not to err simply because the state of perfection by a carnal man (sans Christ Jesus) is impossible to attain. After all, Christ Jesus did utter this: ‘“If [one] loves Me, keep My commandments’” (John 14.15). These commandments are rooted in true love: “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it” (II John 1.6). The test of overcoming my diagnosis of autism with the Lord’s help is arguably the greatest wave I have had to pass through. The Lord has taught me that not even the most gifted medical doctors, whose profession and experience gives them license to prognosticate the outcomes of patients, can correctly forecast the ‘logical’ effect of a given medical cause. One such doctor, who was employed by the medical center of a prominent university, predicted that I would be so mentally low-functioning that I would likely be confined to a sort of resting-home for the rest of my life based on that medical diagnosis. Instead of being angry at that doctor, I choose to forgive him for incorrectly forecasting my fate. He is only a man; I let the lady Fortune place me as she wills, for she is limited by the mighty hand of the Lord. From such a bleak prediction, here I stand. I am not entirely sure whether this particularly rough wave was just that or if it was really a series of several rough waves that became due to a maelstrom. My uncertainty notwithstanding, I still need the Lord to help me, “That the genuineness of [my] faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1.7).

My friends, there is at least one more aspect to this metaphorical interpretation of my walk with the Lord that is crucial. The waves of the unpredictable ocean of life are chaotic, with no apparent pattern, as perceived by man. Now, a set of tools is available to combat any given intensity of wave, or of trial, no matter the positioning of one’s ship in the waters. To add to the metaphor, a navigator’s reliance on the alignment of the stars in the sky, and trust in that alignment, is a Christian’s reliance on the Lord in the spiritual realm, and trusting His existence. As a navigator must look to both the positioning of the stars and to his maps, so a Christian must look to both the Lord and to the Scriptures. Although the Lord Christ once said, “‘ not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on’” (Luke 12.22b), it is also wise to do what one must do in a given day to be as prepared for whatever the Lord has for the next day as one can possibly be. With these notes, one of the Lord shall be ready to allow Him to be the “...shield and the One in whom [one may] take refuge” (Psalms 144.2) against whatever waves one may have to subdue. In the end, the Lord blesses those who tackle a given wave in His name with the assurance of the maps, or Scriptures, and the affirmation of the positioning of the stars, or His eternal presence.

The Lord initially created man to lovingly worship Him. With that in mind, He understands that even though the world has fallen into the clutches of corruption and iniquity, the occasional event that somewhat mirrors heavenly paradise can be known by man. Knowing that the Lord created man to be happy, He allows such occasional times, so long as they are in line with His master plan. One could compare these moments in life to calm stretches of seawater. Such a type of time is one in which “...the wind [drops] and the sea [coagulates], as it were - it [is] so smooth” (Anon., Voyage xiv.). Without a wave to be seen for many knots ahead, one savours such a time that evokes feelings of serenity and security. As for me, I celebrate such times by doing as I ought: To lift up words of thanksgiving to the Lord God, who knows the afflictions of all mankind and honours those who long after His own righteous heart. It was in a similar calm that the patriarch Noah sent from his ark the dove that would find the “freshly plucked olive leaf” by which Noah “knew that the waters had receded from the earth” (Genesis 8.10-11). By that olive branch, Noah knew that the Lord was confirming to him that his faith in Him through the myriad of waves - physical and spiritual ones - had its reward, that is life...

[Credit: Darcy Ireland]

Ah, my friends! Although I would like to expand on this subject, I need to cease. My brother St. Bréanainn calls for my attention now. I thought I heard him thank the Lord for something a mere few seconds ago. Oh, he has spotted a shoreline! It’s still several knots afar - it may take a couple days to reach - but provided it be the Lord’s will, this leather boat shall soon strike land. It is strange, though. This particular shoreline reminds me of a pleasant time in my past....

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