Paddle your Canoe daily with Jesus at the Helm!
“Don’t be afraid, nor let your hearts be troubled!” This is the advise proffered by a devotional song to a Zion traveller, trying to cross the Jordan, paddling his own canoe amidst frightening winds and waves. The traveller has to go across, because his permanent home is not here, but on the other side of the heavenly shore. The traveller needn’t be upset because the one who controls the wind and the waves, the one who has prepared his heavenly abode on the other shore and the one who passed through the death-trap of Jordan is with him in his canoe.
Briefly this is human life here below – a journey. Every journey undertaken by man has a concrete design – a definite time and place of beginning, a calculated distance to be covered, a planned route by land, sea or air to be travelled and finally a definite destination to be reached.
But human life is a totally different journey in all these respects. In it the traveller is neither given the option to choose the time and place of his beginning nor the end of his earthly destination. Like a meteor he is forced to break into the process called time and space from nowhere and after a short or long period of glow, noticed by millions, many, few or none, he is forced to vanish out of space and time into eternity with no decisive say on any of these. In short the visible part of life’s journey stretches only from womb to tomb. This raises the most tantalizing bigger question larger than life about the invisible part of human life’s beginning and end; or better about the mind that conceives the conception of each individual -- in which womb, where, when; and his internment in which tomb, where, when, and more important: why?
Man for all Seasons!
No man born of woman in this world has had answers to these questions except that solitary Man, self-styled as the Son of Man and extolled by others as the Man for all seasons. He alone stands out as a colossus bestriding space and time, as the only man who did conceive his own conception -- in which virgin womb, where and when; how his life’s journey as the light of the world was to begin, how that life was to be kept under a bushel for thirty long years after which what sort of meteoric rise he was to have during the short span of three years of his public life; what kind of catastrophic fall from the sublime to the absurd he was to have through the scandalous death on a cross proclaiming the paradoxical truth of a God being abandoned by his own God; in which tomb he was to be buried and sealed; which soldiers had to be the watch and ward to guard its precious imperishable content day and night; which day he was to break open that sealed tomb to rise from the dead in order to vindicate the all-time truth that Truth is mighty and will prevail, in order to reign gloriously for ever, not only in heaven but also, as a live wire in the hearts and minds of millions all over the world as the Risen Lord, Christ Jesus. He alone has vindicated once and for all, in recorded history, man’s mastery over the mystery of life and death. This is according to the Bible.
Beginning and end have definite meaning only in relation to a beginning-less and endless mind that conceives them. This mind beyond all comprehension is, what is revealed to us by St. John when he says: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God and the Word was God…through him all things came to be, not one thing has its beginning but through him.” What it tells us is this: while we are not the product of our own planning, none of us is an accident in the dance of events but a product of an eternal divine design. To the extent we conform our lives to that divine design our journey through this world becomes pleasant and fulfilling. While the animal world conform themselves to this design through their instinct, we humans have to do it through our free choice from the time of our adulthood or the time we begin to paddle our own canoes. But awfully limited as we are with our own understanding of things, people, places and problems, how are we to come out with the right choice which would always perfectly square with God’s own design in our day to day life, nay in our moment to moment march through life from dawn to dusk, each day of our life’s journey?
Left to ourselves it is next to impossible for us to keep our canoes safe, secure, steady and on the right track even as it was not possible for the disciples when they let Jesus go to sleep on their boat, while crossing the stormy lake. The same lesson is driven home to us by the example of Peter venturing to walk on the water at the bidding of Jesus and going down to the depths like lead, as his attention was diverted from Jesus by the force of the wind and waves he encountered. A third example of the total futility of relying even on combined human resources alone is the instance of Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel and sons of Zebedee – the whole bunch of them fishing the whole night and ending up catching nothing.(Jn 21:1-6)
Believing & Doubting Peter
In the first instance of crossing the lake, it was undertaken at the initiative of Jesus who told the disciples: “let us cross over to the other side of the lake”(Lk8:22). But the disciples let Jesus go to sleep because they must have thought they could do the job of steering and crossing the lake by their own resources and they got into trouble. In the second instance of Peter walking on wobbling waters, it was initiated by a prayerful dialogue between him and Jesus: “Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water. ‘Come’ said Jesus”(Mt 14:29). And Peter got out of the boat and went on walking steady as long as he had at least a mustard seed-size of faith in the command of Jesus, but started sinking as it gave way to doubting: “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?” To believe is divine; to doubt is human. The praying and believing Peter floated; the fearful and doubting Peter sank. In the third instance, the all too Herculean task of an all-night fishing was undertaken by the self-inflated mighty mite of human resources let loose in the wake of a desperate dead-God philosophical thinking: ‘God helps those who help themselves’.Now, Christ their God was dead and gone. So they had to help themselves without a God to help them’. So Peter said: “I am going fishing” and others joined in and their all night fishing ended up like the monumental fiasco of the Tower of Babel.
All these point to one sure conclusion: Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, they labour in vain who guard it; unless the Lord germinates the seed they labour in vain who plough the land and sow it; unless the Lord heals the sick they labour in vain who prescribe any course of medicine; unless the Lord enlighten the scribes they labour in vain who strive to compose prose or poetry to inspire and enrich their readers; in short, unless the Lord steers the canoe they labour in vain who paddle it, whether it be for the short span of a journey from dawn to dusk or the longer one spanning from womb to tomb. And so anyone who wants to be imbued with the spirit of the Zion traveller must pray :
Steer me today O Lord!
‘My Lord and my God, be thou today at the helm of this little boat that is Me, setting sail from today’s dawn to today’s dusk.
My Lord and my God, remove me from the rudder of this boat, as I have neither the navigating skills, nor the sense of direction, nor the capacity to see beyond my nose, and install therein your own Good Self, your own Powerful Self, your own All Knowing Self, who alone, not only controls with authority the angry seas, the roaring winds and the dashing waves but also calms and guides them in the right direction. Be thou alone the captain of this feather boat which is Me and steer it safe and sound from this shore called the ‘dawn’ to the other shore called the ‘dusk’ through the rough and tumultuous deep sea called ‘today’.
But, my Lord and my God, in case between this shore and the other, if it pleases you to call me to yourself, enable me O Lord today to joyfully bid adieu to my life-liner and to fly into your bosom, like a carefree skylark.
But again, my Lord and my God, if your plan for me today happens to be different; if I am to carry on in my life-raft, then enable me today to say : ‘I live today, but not I but Christ lives in me.’ Amen
Facing Life and Death
Biblically, theologically, spiritually and from a Christian point of view, one should be able to stare in the face of both life and death with equanimity and serenity. The joyful march of life forgetting the possibility of the unpredictable trap of death any moment; or the frightening thought of death inhibiting the fruitful march of life, are both unrealistic of our passing, fading earthly existence. Still the fact remains that every day of human life is a tempestuous journey, a crossing over of a dangerously unpredictable deep sea called ‘Today’. The one way to ensure one’s safe transit here, is not only to get Jesus into one’s canoe but to put him at the helm, so that one can even go to sleep and make a dash through a turbulent day, not only safe but even unaware of a tumultuous journey gone through.
But what, if death summons you at some point of this transit from dawn to dusk? St. Paul who saw his life as a journey through constant dangers – danger in town, in the open country, at sea; from pagans, brigands, own people and so-called brothers (2Cor 11:26) described his approaching death as a gain, since he wanted to be delivered from his mortal body in order to be more closely united with Christ. He must have seen death as the releasing of the skylark of his soul from the cage, to let it fly into the bosom of Christ.
Here, if one has to choose, what is better: to live or die for Christ? St. Paul himself was caught in this dilemma and exclaimed: “I do not know what I should choose” (Phil 2:22). Fortunately for us, death is not a matter of our choice, as it was not with our own birth either. What is expected of a good steward of Christ is to make hay while the sun shines and to imitate St. Paul for whom, to live was to empty all selfishness from his own inmost being and to replenish it with the spirit and personality of Christ, so that he could exclaim: “I live now, not I but Christ lives in me”(Gal 2:20).
Supremacy of God’s Grace
In short, the secret of one’s success in life before God and man boils down to this: crucifixion of self and glorification of the supremacy of God’s grace and mercy in all human affairs, because ‘the only thing that counts is not what human beings want or try to do but the mercy of God’(Rom 9:14). That is why St. Paul asks the boastful: “What have you which you have not received and if you have received, why do you glory as if you have not received?”(Cor 4:7) and Jesus himself exhorts us: “When you have done all what you are supposed to do, call yourself a useless servant”(Lk 17:11). That is what we really are – worthless servants – because, if “it is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and action”(Phil 2:13) in us for doing anything good, what is there left for us to boast of?
It is then, thanks to the grace of God alone that we are prompted to do good and be good, and it is not the good we think we do and boast of, that brings down on us God’s grace. Otherwise “grace would not be grace at all”(Rom 11:6). Even more profoundly: “It is in Him that we live and move and have our being”(Act.17:28), even while we, in utter ignorance about this rock-bottom reality, imagine that we are conducting ourselves or paddling our own canoes and honouring Jesus, when we graciously request Him to take his seat at the helm. The more we wake up to the reality of this puzzling supremacy of God’s grace and mercy which appeared in the person of Jesus Christ and continues its commanding salvific role ever since in human lives in general and in our own lives in particular, the more the unreality of our own popped-up self-importance will melt into thin air.
Vitamin – I or Ego
Einstein while expounding his feat in discovering a new vitamin, explained in a lighter vein to the suspense of his listeners: While the reduction of the measure of different vitamins cause various body ailments, the dwindling to the point of total elimination of the new vitamin he discovered, makes one healthy, wealthy and happy physically, mentally, spiritually and a store house of all good things to oneself and others. What is that vitamin? It is called Vitamin ‘I’, that is, the Ego in each of us, which the truly wise and enlightened will be quick to nip in the bud, as and when it rears its ugly head.
We have only to remember what happened when this vitamin shot up to disproportionate heights in the boiling blood of Peter. It made him boast: “Even if ‘I’ have to die with you, ‘I’ will never disown you”(Mt 26:35). Contrary to his tall talk, he denied Christ thrice and he had to weep for it for the rest of his life. The folly of Peter should make us doubly wise to wipe out this ‘I’ syndrome, this Ego totally from our inmost self. This alone will in turn prompt each one of us to pray in all humility daily in the spirit of the Zion traveller: “Just for today, O Lord, come and be seated at the helm of my feather boat and steer it safe and straight from this shore called the ‘dawn’ to the other shore called the ‘dusk’ through this tempestuous and treacherous deep sea called ‘today’.