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Sink or Swim

“keep up your courage” (Acts 27)

This painting by Rembrandt depicts Christ in the storm: a story in which the disciples and Jesus are out on the lake and a storm blows up. Jesus is fast asleep in the boat, and the disciples wake him, asking “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”.

Who are you in the boat? Are you someone who is huddling in the prow, frightened of the storm, are you trying desperately to save the boat, or are you almost drowning? who are you sharing

your boat with?

Something that was said early on during the pandemic was that we are all in the same boat. Except we aren’t, are we? Living in a four-bedroom terrace with a garden I am not in the same boat as someone who lives in high rise flat where the lift breaks down regularly. Most of those who have been making decisions about how we all manage this pandemic are in the equivalent of a luxury yacht, whilst many of those for whom such decisions are being made are in an overcrowded dinghy.

A story about St Paul tells of how he and other prisoners of the Roman state were being transported to Rome by ship when the boat hit a huge storm. The storm raged for days and everyone began to fear for their lives. Some of the sailors attempted an escape plan, manning the lifeboat to sneak away to safety. Morale was low. Paul, who had warned the captain that the boat shouldn’t sail, resisted the temptation to revel in the knowledge that he warned them about this and instead rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in. He told everyone to eat for their strength, asked the sailors to remain with the ship and reassured everyone that all would be saved. Not long after, land was sighted and the crew, with great relief, steered the boat to safety. Just when everything finally seemed fine, the boat hit rocks and floundered. The mast and the hull separated, and it appeared that everyone was doomed. Yet again, Paul made a plea for everyone to work together for the common good. Those who could swim were advised to jump in and swim to shore. Those who couldn’t were to grab a plank from the wreckage and hang on until swept ashore. Everyone was saved.

What does this story tell us? Perhaps that being in the same boat requires a group effort to work together for the common good. That being in the same boat does not mean that everyone is the same or has the same skills or life experience. Some people need planks, some can swim. That, although tempting, it is not helpful to remind others that we saw this coming. That using our knowledge to escape might save us, but it could mean the loss of others.

The second picture show The Scallop by Maggi Hambling, a contemporary British artist. This artwork is sited on the beach at Aldeburgh, home of the famous annual opera festival. The words on the shell are a quote from Peter Grimes, an opera by Benjamin Britten "I hear those voices that will not be drowned".

There is increasing concern about a second spike. Many are reeling from the first wave and are on the cusp of sinking. How do those of us who can swim work to help everyone in our boat to get to safety? Does it feel as if those who should be caring for us are sleeping? Do we have the courage to ride the storm? What voices do we need to listen to?

Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:

What storms are you facing?

What ‘planks’ do you need?

Do you need to jump in?

How can you work for everyone’s safety?

Where are shores of safety?

Meditative Action:

You will need a piece of wood, this could be as simple as an old-fashioned ruler, a slice of bark, or a plank.

- Hold the wood in your hands. Sit quietly, and then feel the surface of the wood with your hands. Maybe shut your eyes. Is the wood rough or smooth? Does it feel solid or flimsy? Imagine using this to cling onto in a storm.

- Think about all the things that you cling onto for security, all the things that perhaps have been thrown up in the air over the past few months.

- Do you need a ‘plank’ to survive? If so, what is it?

- Place your ‘plank’ (piece of wood) somewhere around your house to remind you of what you have considered.

- You may want to think about the words of Sir Francis Drake: “We ask You to push back the hori­zons of our hopes; And to push into the future In strength, courage, hope, and love.”

This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission

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