The Weight of Liberty
“To venture on wider seas” (Sir Francis Drake)
Take a look at the first image. What do you see? This picture is called The Mystical Boat by Odilon Redon. Where are you in that boat? Are you sailing the seas? Heading into a storm? Enjoying the sea breeze? Can you operate the rudder or does the boat seem to have a will of its own? Are you off on an adventure?
There is a well-known poem attributed to Sir Francis Drake. It talks about our journey in life in terms of an ocean trip, not a surprising image for the famous sea voyager. Although it is couched in Christian imagery, the theme of adventure and risk are universal. Here is the first verse – the rest is worth looking up:
Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true Because we have dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore.
The second image is of Sail: one of my earliest artworks. This is a close up of the whole piece, a ten-foot-high sail made using the ‘ocean waves’ patchwork design. The fabric is canvas, used in traditional sails and also the fabric of artists. The patchwork sections have been pieced together using a design employed for more contemporary Teflon sails to increase speed. The images and words printed on the fabric were taken from personal documents such as letters from my Gran and my birth certificate. The idea of the piece was that everything we have experienced, our history and the history we inherit, makes us who we are, and we take that as we go forward; but that these things do not have to stop us from sailing into an adventure.
Sometimes it would be so much easier to stay in harbour and not to brave the storm. But, as Archbishop Camara said:
Pilgrim - when your ship long moored in harbour gives you the illusion of being a house; when your ship begins to put down roots in the stagnant water by the quay: PUT OUT TO SEA!
Save your boat's journeying soul and your own pilgrim soul, cost what it may.
At the end of the book Tombs of Atuan by Ursula le Guin, the main character leaves her native island in a boat to start anew, free at last from the tyranny of the traditions and darknesses that have claimed her for her whole life. Le Guin writes: “She wept in pain, because she was free. What she had begun to learn is the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the sprit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made..”.
Freedom is exciting, but it also brings the weight of responsibility. There will be discovery, but there may also be storms. We can sail into the horizon and there will always be another horizon after that one but sometimes we do not have a say over the currents and where they might take us. It’s a wonderful adventure that never ends, always requires our courage and is a soul saving experience.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
What adventures would you like to take?
What responsibility could this bring?
How can you be free?
What disturbs you?
You will need a piece of paper and a pencil/pen, maybe a bowl of water.
- Spend a while thinking about the questions above. Maybe you would like to think about where you feel you are: going with the flow or bobbing along? Are you on a voyage of discovery, paddling upstream or in a safe harbour?
- Write or draw your responses onto the paper.
- Make a boat out of the paper using the instructions below
- If you want, float your boat onto a bowl of water or take it to a canal, river or a lake if you can
This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission