Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Riding the Waves on the Sea of Life: A Brief Homily

(Delivered by Matt Rhodes during the MedStar Washington Hospital Center Community Centering Moment, August 3, 2015.)

One of my all-time favorite novels is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” For those of you who might not have read it, this book is set during the “Roaring Twenties,” a decadent era of extravagance in the years just prior to the onset of the Great Depression. It was a time when people lived for the moment and did not give a thought to what tomorrow may hold.

Of all the wonderfully crafted lines of this book, one of the most powerful is the very last one on the very last page: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Boats against the current.

Or perhaps consider this. Imagine yourself wading into the ocean, leaving the sand behind as you walk into ever deepening water. After enjoying the waves for a few minutes, you turn to walk back to the shore.

But you can’t. The harder you try to return, the more difficult the waves make that short journey. You want to go in, but the ocean tides are pulling you out. The more effort you exert, the more tired you become.

Each of these examples is a metaphor for how we find our lives sometimes. Just like a boat moving against a current or a tide that is pulling us in the opposite direction of where we want to go, how many times have we encountered a situation where it felt we were trying to move against the flow of something?

An illness for which we want a cure. A financial difficulty for which we need a solution. A clear sense of direction about a major life decision we must make. Like that person trying to walk in the ocean, we exert so much effort in trying to force a cure – a solution – an answer – that we exhaust ourselves.

Now imagine yourself back in the ocean – and next to you is a surfer. But unlike you, the surfer is taking a different approach to the waves.

Rather than going against the tide, instead of fighting against the waves, the surfer instead goes with them. On the longboard, the surfer waits for just the right moment, stands up, and rides the wave back in. Does this skill take practice? Yes. Does it require courage? Yes.

And perhaps most importantly, it requires the surfer to let go – to trust in the board and the waves and the ocean currents.

In our lives, the current we feel is God. Like the ocean moving towards the shore, God is guiding us towards a particular solution, a specific destination, to that one answer we are seeking. But like the casual wader being pummeled in the surf, how often do we find ourselves fighting him, choosing instead to try and make our own way, our own solution, our own cure?

I can tell you from personal experience that the end result of my trying to do it on my own was exhaustion, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of feeling beaten.

Rather than fighting the waves – rather than going against God – it is so much easier to go with him. Does it, like the surfer trusting in the longboard and the ocean, take courage? Absolutely. Sometimes, tapping into our faith is one of the hardest things we can do.

But once we have found that faith, once we have embraced the grace that God has extended to us – once we jump on top of that holy wave instead of trying to ride against it – the journey becomes much easier.

Will there still be times of difficulty? Without question. The best professional surfers still manage to wipe out from time to time. Even as we go about our lives today, here in this hospital and outside these walls, there will be moments of cross-currents – of sudden undertows and waves that knock us off balance and drag us away from our goal.

But in those instances, be calm – trust in the “board” that you have been given – and you will see that the most incredible thing happens: God will reach out his hand, pull you out of that treacherous water, and put you back on top of the wave.

All he asks is that we trust, that we have faith, and that we continue to ride that wave across the sea of life.