Skip to main content

Mere Orthodoxy exists to create media for Christian renewal. Support this mission today.

Sailing and the Christian Life

September 30th, 2021 | 8 min read

By Ali Kjergaard

“But here and there it shines out with a great and flashing beauty, like a light set upon a high place above the stormy or tranquil waters where we voyage. And the sceptic will say: is the beacon for me, is my haven there, in the harbour under that light may I come to my journey’s end?” – Paul Elmer More

“Are you ready to go fast?” The question hung in the air for a moment. My heart was still racing after our latest near tip, I was soaked from the river, and my hands bore the marks of holding a rope taut, but my crewmate was excited to catch this breeze. I turned into the wind, the water twinkling in the sunlight, the whole boat seemed to cry for us to set sail again, how could I say no? How do you say no to a moment of thrilling action? Isn’t that what I’d really been seeking all along, by setting foot in the boat?

On a whim I signed up for sailing lessons this summer. I’ve always loved the water; on hikes I’m always looking for a little brook or stream to wade in and on family trips to Minnesota growing up I was known for jumping off the dock if left unsupervised, I’ve always wanted to be in or on the water.

In high school I consumed nautical books, the moody but brilliant Horatio Hornblower and amiable, strong Jack Aubrey were my heroes. While my friends fan-girled over Ryan Gosling, I was falling in love with fictional naval officers fighting in the Napoleonic wars. But more than the characters on the ships I fell in love with the idea of sailing, a life on the water filled with adventure. I remember studying the diagrams at the front of the book trying to understand the rigging of a frigate, annoyed at how many times I was having to reference them while reading. I wanted someone to mutter, “my God, that’s seamanship” watching me maneuver a boat. So, perhaps learning to sail is less of a whim than I thought.

I don’t think anyone will be awestruck by my sailing. To my disappointment I’m not a natural born sailor with killer instincts of navigation, but rig and sail a boat I can, even if it’s not always smooth or flawless. I learned to sail two types of boats, one is the unsinkable Flying Scot and the other is the temperamental racing boat, the FJ. There’s a lot of crouching and ducking when sailing an FJ. I was amazed by how tired I was after a day sailing the vessel. You’re always holding a rope, or loosening a sail, or checking the wind, or getting smacked in the head by the boom (yes, it’s happened many a time) but sailing one of these is exciting. There are some moments of sheer magic (and terror). It was at the moment of being asked “are you ready to go fast?” that one of those magic sailing moments was about to occur. We tacked, trimmed our sails, and caught the sharp breeze. I hopped up on the high side and we leaned back, far out over the water to keep the boat from tipping. With the wind and the spray it all just felt like adventure.

This past spring I reread the book of Acts. If I’m honest I wasn’t very excited to read it. The last time I read it I remember being a little bored. It’s a ton of stories blandly strung together, they aren’t as exciting as the Old Testament stories and don’t offer the practical advice of the letters, or so I thought. I was wrong. Acts is utter adventure, excitement, and plot twists. It’s all energy and action, the disciples travel from place to place, they are met with violence as they preach, but they never stop.

The phrase that constantly is used in Acts is how the “Lord added to their number.” Everyone is getting baptized or coming to faith, the disciples, once timid and hiding, now boldly proclaim their faith, “We must obey God rather than men!” There are women who I had never paid attention to, bold characters that leap off the page. There is Lydia the businesswoman, the joyous Rhoda, Tabitha who is always doing good, and tentmaker Priscilla, all women who played a role in the early church. This period of Christianity is adventure after adventure, filled with courageous men and women who are taking heart and spreading the word in the face of painful circumstances and persecution. Their hope is the anchor amidst every trial they face, a reality Chesterton described long ago:

‘Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall he save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors and mountaineers.”

We see the disciples embody this definition of courage in their preaching. They once were mere sailors and tax collectors, but now are summoned to be courageous and bold. The disciples have cast off their skepticism, Paul is now a force for good, and the gospel is spreading to the ends of the earth. What caused this drastic change inside of them, that they are now so bold? The hope of the gospel is a powerful catalyst for us all.

Before the disciples are sent out to share the good news they spend a fair amount of time on a boat with Christ. It is a bonding experience; being piled in a boat together, nearly capsizing, being exposed to the elements. Amidst those days sailing with Christ the disciples learned to keep their eyes fixed on him. My first time in a boat I watched the instructor intently as I learned the rhythm of tacking and jibing. But eventually they put the tiller in my hands, and sometimes it felt as if they weren’t in the boat with me. My vision changed from fiercely studying their maneuvers to now practicing what they had just taught me. Tiller and main sheet in hand I picked a point on the shore to sail toward, just as our teacher instructed us to do. The shore was now where I fixed my gaze.

While sailing I’ve also thought of Paul who spends a fair amount of time in Acts sailing, going forth to spread the good news, and even surviving shipwrecks. Acts 27 is one of the most “edge-of-your-seat” sailing adventures I have read. Look at the words Paul says to the crew as they careen towards shipwreck, “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because none of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” Paul warns that they are in for rocky seas, but that they will be saved. His words are reminiscent of Aslan’s quiet whisper to Lucy aboard the Dawn Treader, “Courage, dear heart.” In moments of doubt we are to remember “In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

There’s a sign that hangs in my mom’s house, a heavy, old wooden sign from a Christian camp. It’s painted a dark red, the paint a little chipped, and carved into it are the words “Adventurous Christian.” I’ve always loved that sign (and will fight my siblings for it one day), but after reading Acts I love it all the more. The Christian life is one of adventure. After hours and hours on the water, I’m okay with holding the tiller, and I’ve found a new joy and love of sailing. But more so it’s taught me about the adventurous voyage of faith and hope as a Christian, while I’m on this adventure I need not be afraid, whatever storms may come. I take notes from Paul’s courage, from the courage of all the disciples. I know that God will calm the seas all in good time, even if it’s not in our desired timeline. And until then, we hold fast, we trim our sails, so the Spirit spurs us on, acting as our wind. Our faith is our great adventure, a risk of belief when we trust what we do not see. And we, like sailors on a long voyage, ache for land. We look to distant shores, a beacon of hope to guide us there, and in the meantime when asked if we are ready to sail fast we say “yes,” because our faith is the adventure. In faith I’ll lean out over the water, to keep the boat on course. In the fashion of Paul Elmer More I’ll end with Socrates’ cry: “Fair is the prize and the hope great!” Anchors aweigh, my fellow sailors. Let the adventure begin.”

Enjoy the article? Pay the writer.

Personal Info

Donation Total: $0