Ebb and Flow in the same tide
I have just been aboard a 41′ yacht for some study leave to learn about Celtic Christianity. It was a great joy to be with leaders Howard and Andy in the mission project Navigators of Faith. The plan was to be sailing between Grimsby and Greenwich, but the boat Rival Star was stuck in Edinburgh with engine problems and we only got as far as Newcastle. It was not going to plan … which provides me with the topic of this reflection. Where is God when things go wrong, especially when it is his work?
It is easy to believe God’s hand is on things when they are going well. Indeed, this was the case when we had another engine failure when heading back to harbour and it cut out within gliding distance of a waiting pontoon. It was a huge relief to have someone take the ropes and secure the boat in a safe place, as it could have been quite dangerous drifting towards a harbour wall or ships just passed. ‘Thank God’, we thought, after praying for an hour to be safe ashore.
The experience added to many other amazing things. Caroline, for instance, the other crew member, heard basking seals on the island of Inchcolm. She wrote and sang a song of their sounds which you can hear from my phone recording. Also, at North Shields I met Peter who is a relatively new Christian. Joining a local church that wanted to serve the local community more but with little money, he helped make a café bar area with wooden pallets. It was a great 5-day adventure, with inspiring people to meet.
However, many of the events of the mission raised lots of questions too. If it was God, (as well as Andy, the skipper’s, skill), that brought us safely to shore, why didn’t God sort the engine and keep the mission on track? Was this spiritual warfare? And then, what is success and failure? How does God answer prayer? Are trials necessary in God’s mission? It reminded me of a reading in a Celtic Daily Prayer book (1), ‘when we are faced with the reality of lives that are complex, messy and full of paradox, in the context of a rapidly changing worlds, quick answers are often at best unhelpful. If we choose a different approach, we find ourselves living the questions’.
Being at sea certainly helps you ‘living the questions’, but I was also reminded again that biblical truth is often on both sides: not a case of ‘either/or’, but ‘both/and’. Learning about Celtic Christianity it is clear these ancient people saw paradox in the gospel with many of their views on creation, prayer, mission and the church. It made me think again about complex opposites eg Jesus, both God and man; servant and king; born of a virgin mother (how paradoxical is that?!) and the ‘complex in the whole’ as expressed in a song called Trinity from the website Songs of Mind and Spirit.
The ‘complex in the whole’ is important to remember. We need a bigger view of the gospel that has both sides of each question. When discussing this a friend said, ‘just as the Ebb and Flow belong to the same tide?’. Yes! That’s it, when things are going well and when they are not. We need the whole picture, always looking to Jesus who, like the Celtic saints, himself sailed the sea to bring good news and not just simple answers.
Andy, tells the story in his in his blog.
Read Caroline’s blog: Pilgrims at Sea
See a video clip on the approach to the River Tyne.
(1) Northumbria Community. Book II, p1360. Collins 2015
PS please keep praying for Howard, Andy, new crew members, mission events and the engine on Rival Star on the way back to Bristol.