Overboard

A parable of faith for late summer…

Attending a party during a fierce storm, an interesting conversation evolved with a woman I’ll call Alice. She was a smart professional—a lawyer, I think—and, as small talk among strangers at such a gathering under such conditions might evolve, we were discussing the weather under the heading, “Big Storms We Had Remembered and Endured.”

Alice said she had a special affinity for storms—in fact, it was during a storm that she experienced a profound spiritual awakening. She said she didn’t speak of it to very many people because, though it was dramatic in a way, she wasn’t certain that, 1) anyone would really believe her, or 2) that she should share it at all anyway since it was such an intensely personal event. My curiosity aroused, I invited her to say more.

Alice then recounted that when she was growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, her family often spent time on their boat sailing up and down the east coast, often venturing into the waters of the Caribbean. Both parents were competent sailors and great respecters of their relative frailty in comparison to the elements. But on one occasion, they were caught off guard in a fierce squall. Alice was about 17—old enough to be a seasoned mariner and helpful to the captains, but not quite mature enough to understand her true vulnerability.

And so it happened that while trying to tie down a loosened rope, the boat rocked sharply starboard, allowing a large swell to break over the side of the hull whisking her off the deck. She didn’t know exactly how long she was encased in the swirling blackness—sheer terror—maybe 10 seconds? Then, bobbing up in another swell, she was set back aboard, just a few feet from where she had been standing. No one else witnessed this. Her parents did not know that for several seconds they had lost their daughter to the sea. Only Alice was left in a completely astonished state.

Well into her thirties when I heard her tale, Alice said she was transformed in that moment—even reborn, she thinks, although it had taken the last twenty years to absorb the meaning of those ten seconds. And then she was sure she would never really completely absorb it, except, perhaps, at her death. Alice didn’t understand how the equation was put together, but somehow the alchemy of fear, vulnerability, and rescue added up to faith. That was why she loved storms so, because they reminded her of who was who, and what was what. Storms aroused the adrenaline rush of fear, but the fear brought faith. Alice said she knew it sounded strange, but that’s how it was for her. That’s how it was that she came to know God…

From “A Service of Death and Resurrection” (UM Hymnal p. 871):

O God, who gave us birth… Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love...

The Rev. Stephen Bauman is lead pastor at Christ Church United Methodist  in New York, NY. Read more of his "Faith Matters" reflections on the Christ Church website.

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