Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Shipping Forecast and then a word from God

Today's international headlines are shot through with stories of violence, cruelty, and indifference to human suffering. On a more local level we see the story of economic stagnation still unfolding, and affecting millions of people. Many families are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. It just seems we live in a world brimming with despair. Even people who are fortunate enough to steer clear of much of this distress still can't help but sense we are close to some sort of tipping point. All that being said it is not surprising how much anxiety has crept into our lives. As I was reflecting on this and where in my life I have turned to find peace, a thought came to mind of a different time and place where anxiety seemed always afoot, but I managed to find solace in an unexpected quarter from an unexpected ally. Let me explain.

Some years ago, while searching for a paycheck and a bit of adventure, I found myself working in the waters of the North Sea and those surrounding the British Isles. In my time there, I came to know, and come to terms with the frequency of adverse weather. In doing so I developed a passionate interest in the BBC Shipping Forecast. The most memorable aspect of this forecast, for me, was the manner and tone of its delivery. As best as I can recall it was (in those days) a woman's calm, steady voice calling out the various sea sectors and giving the forecasted weather, winds and sea state. There was never a hint of added inflection or change of tone whether the forecast was for calm seas or storm 10 (not good). Interestingly, I found that I came to appreciate, and even find comfort in, the calming presence of the lady reading the forecast. The weather was going to do what it was going to do, but the voice reporting it over the airwaves connected me back to a distant shore and away from whatever troubles were coming my way. Oddly enough I found that somewhat reassuring. But that was then.

Rembrandt, Christ in the Storm
So, fast forward to the present, and continuing on with my thoughts of what would now abet my own inner peace, I found myself drawn to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.

There, Robin and I recently spent a month doing volunteer work with the Camino Chaplaincy. Our daily tasks centered on duties as sacristan, greeter, cantor, pilgrim support, and attending to the general good order of the chapel. The nature of the work was, in and of itself, peaceful, but as stated earlier, world events have created substantial fissures in our comfort zones. We accept the fact that almost anything can happen at any time. This realization is the root cause of much new fear, and heightened anxiety. While our time in Santiago was a world apart from my offshore experiences I felt there existed a parallel between them. Let me try to explain.

Life can come at us hard regardless of where we are (at sea or ashore) or what we are doing.  At one point the Shipping Forecast seemed a welcomed voice of sanity reaching across a bleak seascape, but I moved on, in time and place, from my "Shipping Forecast" days yet still hoping to find a similarly calming voice. What I discovered was something I had been keeping at arm's length for quite some time, the Holy Spirit that dwells within us all. What gradually awakened within me was the realization that the Spirit is God's loving presence sent to comfort and guide us. When days at sea were difficult I did not expect a storm to miraculously subside (mind you I wouldn't have complained if it did). I just hoped that I could maneuver in such a way that both crew and ship would weather it without injury or damage. I view the intervention of the Holy Spirit in my life in much the same way. I am not expecting some sort of miraculous intervention, but these things do happen. But, if they don't my faith remains intact. I simply pray for strength and guidance that, regardless of the distress, a reasonable path forward will be found and, most reassuringly, I know I will never have to walk it alone.

So as I look back on my storm tossed days I am again thankful for the calm delivery of the woman reading the Shipping Forecast. She created a bridge to a safer place, and made whatever I had to do or endure seem humanly possible. I am likewise thankful for the ability to now listen to and be guided by the Holy Spirit. It too calms and reassures me in times of distress. Fear, confusion, and anxiety are admittedly always on the table, but so is peace. The choice is ours. The Holy Spirit always patiently awaits us to tune in.

"What sort of man is this whom even the winds and the sea obey." (Matthew 8:27)