Lent is a journey. It is a journey I have entered into wholeheartedly for eight years; I stand on the edge of my ninth. This time, I come to this spiritual journey with a whole new physical experience to draw from. I have been thinking of our Atlantic crossing these last few days.
I was born on the east coast of Canada (the Atlantic Ocean). I spent most of my childhood on the shores of one of North America’s Great Lakes (Lake Huron). As an adult, I have lived on the shores of Great Slave Lake and the Pacific Ocean. I know what it is to stand on the shore and look out on vast vistas of unending water. I have frolicked in all those bodies of water. But until last November, I had never committed myself entirely to journeying across any of them.
I wanted to try an ocean crossing cruise, particularly an Atlantic crossing, because all of my grandparents emigrated to Canada by ship. For various reasons, these ancestors set out from their known homelands and headed into the unknown. They committed themselves and got on a ship bound for Canada not knowing what weather they would encounter, who their fellow passengers were, or what was awaiting them on the far shores. Would they be sick the entire time? Would they feel claustrophobic? Would they feel like leaping over the side? Would they feel despair at the sight of unending water day after day? Despite the questions, the uncertainties and inevitable doubts, they boarded those ships. They survived the trip and made new lives for themselves in a new place.
I had many of the same questions as we approached our crossing. How would I feel being “stuck” on a small ship for two straight weeks without any means of escape? Would I go a little bonkers looking out at the water day after day? Would I be bored? Scared? Frustrated? But, despite the unknown, we committed. We walked across the gangway onto our temporary home and haven, come what may.
As we embarked, I thought about the image of God’s love as an ocean: it is vast and fathomless. And I thought about standing on the shore versus heading out into the middle of it. Just like standing on the shore of an ocean, I can stand on the shore of God’s love and consider the sight. I can dabble my toes in to see what it feels like. I can even take the plunge and swim at the edge. But that isn’t the only way to experience it. All those experiences let me retain control. I’m standing on the land, or I am close enough to get there on my own. What happens when I commit to experiencing the vastness in a new way?
Many of the same questions arise when contemplating a commitment to an immersive experience of God’s love. What will it be like? Is it safe? What if I’m afraid? What if I panic? Is there any way out once we’ve started? Will I be overwhelmed?
Standing on the edge of another Lenten journey, a journey into love and forgiveness, having experienced the vastness of a physical ocean, I am ready to commit to the vastness of God’s ocean of love. I’m all in! I’m ready to walk the gangway, come what may! I don’t know what the Spirit has in store for me during this journey, but I know that it will start with “You are already forgiven!” From there, I can explore the depths of God’s love with anticipation. I don’t want to hold back, insisting on keeping the shore in sight, or that there be a helicopter standing by as an exit strategy. The thrill and utter joy in our cruise was in not seeing the shore, in knowing we were in it without an easy exit strategy. I want the thrill of experiencing God’s love in its depth. I want the joy of being in the middle of it and not being able to see anything else.
To do that, I have to start the journey. I have to find a community of fellow-travelers, buy my ticket and show up on departure day. I have a community, I have committed to others that I will be there. I’m ready to go! Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday, (March 6, 2019): departure day. Would you like to come along? Let me help you buy a ticket. Let me introduce you to some fellow travelers. Like our fellow cruise passengers, I don’t know exactly what’s to come, but I’ve been this way before and I’d love to travel with you!
Photo: The Atlantic, November 14, 2018 – Heather Holtslander