Thursday, March 18, 2010

In the Boatman’s Lap

This week, the Rappahannock was out of its banks again. Several days of rain, preceded by warmer temperatures that melted off the remaining snow patches, filled the streams, lakes and rivers to overflowing. From my favorite vantage point of Ingleside Drive, I looked back down at the curve of the river. The tidal currents pulled the water in violent splashes over the boulders, making actual whitecaps and reminding me of a painting I have hanging in my office. To be accurate, it is a print of a painting; the original, I am told, hangs in an old mansion in Nashville, Tennessee, that has been converted to a museum. The title of the painting is “Boatman and Child” and was painted by an artist named Robert Payton Reid.

As you would infer from the title, the picture is of a man dressed in rain gear, a 19th Century version of a slicker like garment, probably oilskin, and a rain hat. It is apparent from the front left periphery that he is in a sailboat, and the water is white-capped. The Boatman also wears a countenance speaking of determined control; his left hand is firmly grasping the rudder and the other encircles a little girl as his hand grasps the rope line of the sail. In addition to the dark traditional dress and coat of the period, the little girl is wearing a plain, white cap that fits closely to her head and is tied underneath her chin. Her little hands are pressed, palms together, and brought up to cushion her head against the Boatman’s chest. The expression on her little face indicates she is frightened, but it also conveys trust. She is huddled against him, taking both shelter and rest as the storm’s waves rock the boat.

One is struck by it. The colors in the piece are shades of browns and grays, adding to the somber mood of the scenario, yet it does not convey an entirely gloomy feeling. In fact, whenever I look at it, I am drawn in by its calm, and by how I identify with that little girl; safe in the arms of her protector - - perhaps her father or grandfather - - while being tossed about by the menacing combination of wind and waves. She is calm and settling to rest in the comforting power embodied in the Boatman.

I tell people that the print is my faith statement, and to some extent, it is. On those occasions when I feel that my little corner of the world is disintegrating all around me, I can look at that picture and rest secure in the knowledge that God has the world under His control. It also reminds me of the physical sensation in centering prayer. That “resting in God” is physically akin to the relaxed and trusting serenity of a child climbing into the lap of a loving grandfather, and simply leaning against his chest. Words are unnecessary. While there is not a serious resemblance between the two, the Boatman reminds me a little bit of my own maternal grandfather. Not that I spent all that much time sitting in his lap, although I’m sure I did here and there, but more that I loved and trusted him almost more than anyone else in my childhood.

As I write this, we Americans are watching as our federal government is grappling with many topics in legislature that will have major impacts on our population. There has been unusual harshness between the two major political parties in the past few years and the rancor with which the business of legislating is being done has been unprecedented. Or maybe it’s the press coverage of the verbal sniping that is unprecedented. I’m not certain. Similarly, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America is also poised to debate and make landmark decisions for the denomination. Each needs our prayers; and we could all probably also use some time in the Boatman’s lap as he steers the vessel to safety.

So, select a quieting word or phrase to signal to Him your intent, sit comfortably, with all distractions off or at least in silent mode. Now, close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out very slowly, thinking gently of your special sacred word or phrase. Breath in again. And again.

May you know the peace that comes from letting it all go, and resting in the love and presence of God through His Holy Spirit.

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