Santa Maria went in the water this week. I was down to the marina yesterday to do some work in preparation of raising the mast: a little cleaning, a new light for the mast, pumping out the bilge. There is always something to be done on a boat. Sometimes that something is even sailing this ship.
It is interesting to note that the Latin word for ship – nave – is used for the worship area proper in a church. The church is likened to a boat. The most common reason given is that the ship functions rather like the ark of old: a safe haven while billows rage. Obviously, scribblers of holy writ never sailed with me.
I am a novice sailor and for my few years of sailing, long is the list of things gone wrong. A pair of glasses have gone overboard (along with every sort of tool), our engine has stalled at the most inopportune moments, rocks and shoals have been broached, sheets (ropes for land lovers) have tangled, and once the mast came a-tumbling down. Thankfully no-one has ever been hurt. It was only this last year that my brave wife and I have garnered enough confidence to take passengers on board. So when my legs scissor over the life line and bid land farewell my heart skips a beat: excitement beckons. But it is excitement precisely because an element of risk informs this activity. Sailor knows well the power of water and wind. Ships really do go down.
But even so, there is also a kind of comfort on the Santa Maria. Today I had my first 2013 lunch aboard our boat. I reclined in the cockpit, stretched out my feet, and imbibed my open-face sandwich while watching the long weekend unfold in the marina. I love lounging to the rocking motion of a boat in bay. The sight of cormorants in flight pulls a certain peace from the sky to my eye, to my heart, to my very being. People padding down the docks with ship’s wares – tendering their comforts to vessels of adventure – speak to me of the paradox of life. Just like life, this Santa Maria both animates and pacifies me; it simultaneously satisfies and unsettles me.
Today, “Pentecost Sunday” or “Whitsunday,” is celebrated in churches in the western tradition. This is sometimes called the birthday of the church; the animating and comforting of the church by the Spirit, by the Holy Wind who both drives us beyond comfort zones and soothes our souls. Wild and warm, this Sirocco can be trusted but never second guessed. When we bid land adieu, we broach a new way of being in the world: we sail with a heel, travelling aslant to the perpendicular, wise to the will of the wind, and finding ourselves smiling and glad for the adventure that is life.