Monday, 5 May 2008


In many countries in the northern hemisphere, boats are taken out of the water for the winter and put back in the spring. This happens especially in Sweden, where even the sea may freeze over. Fishing dinghies are hauled out and laid upside down, or stored in sheds or garages safe from the ravages of the weather, until spring arrives.

Imagine the scene. It is a beautiful sunny day in early spring. The ambient air temperature is still cool, there are no leaves on the trees, yet the tiny blue flowers of the spring anemone are poking their heads out of the damp ground and there is no ice anywhere. Time for the boat to be readied for the summer.

The simple wooden dinghy is delighted that it is being prepared ready for action. It can't wait for the sensation of waves gently lapping around its bows, the sway of ripples nudging its keel, bobbing along the edge of the jetty before it moves away from the land. The feel of the water gliding along its planks as it is slid into the creek is utterly delicious. It is afloat. But suddenly the sense of freedom disappears.

The boat is pulled back close to shore and heavy rocks are loaded into it. The boat's timbers groan under the weight as the gunwales sink lower and lower into the water, until the boat can bear no more. Yet still the rocks are loaded in. With a last gasp as trapped air bubbles up, the boat sinks onto the bottom. It is only a few centimetres below the surface in the virtually tideless Baltic but that makes no difference. It is incapable of floating. Drowning.

This has to be done. During the winter, the wood has dried out, shrinking, becoming brittle and porous. Were the dinghy to be put straight into the water and used, the unaccustomed strain on its timbers would cause stress fractures, splitting the wood and creating fissures and leaks. Leaving the boat in the water like this gives it time for the wood to swell up and regain its former strength, so that it can be used and do its job properly.

This is what Jesus said in the gospel of John: "I am the Real Water and my Father is the boatyard owner. He chops up any boat which is not useful and sends the timber away for scrap. Every boat that is useful and does its work well, he takes care of carefully by drowning it first, soaking it in my water, so it will be able to float again. You are already soaked in me by the message I have spoken.

"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a boat is no use unless it can float on the water, you can't be really alive and useful unless you are joined with me. "I am the water, you are the fishing boats. When you're saturated with me and I am in you, the relation intimate, the fishing catch is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't catch a thing because you won't even be out there putting the lines and nets out. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you are able to catch fish, when you mature as my disciples. (Chapter 15, verses 1 – 8).

This is, of course, a paraphrase but I think that's what Jesus might have said had he been Swedish. Really, he is talking about grape vines and farmers. (Look it up.) He actually talks about 'branches' in him being 'pruned back' so that they will bear more. Painful, for the branch. So is drowning, for the boat. It can be agonizing for us when God, through life's circumstances, seems to be cutting us back, drowning us in difficulty.

So we can take heart from Jesus' message. That our difficulties are a necessary part of our development. That without them we will not grow back and become stronger, more fruitful, more useful. When we're submerged in pain and trouble, let it be a light at the end of our tunnels. We will be better for it.

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