LIFE on the rocks

The following monograph is a combination of an analogy given to me by a Christian brother as we discussed lives lived in the midst of storms and a slice of my own consideration of the subject. That latter comes with a bit of literary license and an apology to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle..

We understand that for many of our days we have sunshine and even after a storm we have rainbows. However, for those of us who have been kicking around this old world for more than a generation or two, we know that sometimes life brings intermittent showers, just enough to allow us to dance in the puddles and sometimes the rain feels more like a downpour… enough to keep our eyes off the dancing in the puddles and beginning to look for higher ground. Then there are times when tsunamis hit, and we are washed out to sea amid a gale that seems to have as its sole purpose to overwhelm us and drag us down to the dark depths of despair.

As we sat in a local restaurant just talking and figuring out the deeper mysteries of the universe, my new friend sensed that I was in the depth of the sea and it was as if I had an anchor from a battleship tied to my ankles trying its hardest to drag me down. It had seemed, at times since my terminal diagnosis that the Kraken had come upon my ship and reduced it to driftwood, leaving me to fend off the crashing waves and the irrepressible currents. He asked me if I had heard the analogy of the rocks. When I replied that I had not, my friend began:

         ‘Picture if you will that life is a large body of water, whatever size you might choose it to be. Sometimes it is a beautiful setting, and you find yourself floating along in life with your goal to reach the far shore where stands Christ waiting for you and watching your every moment. Then times get rough and the smooth body of water with the light current picks up and before long you are caught up in raging waters that cause you to gasp for air, sometimes taking in large gulps of seawater. Your arms flail about trying to make some kind of headway or to at least to keep your head above water. Then come the rocks.’

         ‘Most of us,’ my friend went on, ‘see the rocks as more trouble upon which we will crash and hurt ourselves, so we fight like crazy to avoid them. It is important,’ he said, ‘to see the rocks in a different way. They are tiny islands in a sea of despair. They are the young mother and her five-year-old who helped you load your groceries and smiled at you saying, ‘have a nice day’. They might be a larger rock. It is your grandson running at you full tilt when he sees you, grabbing on to you and hugging you as tight as he can, enjoying the kiss you plant on the top of his head. These ‘rocks’ are places where you can grab on, even pull yourself up onto for a time and rest, if even for a moment. Still they are there to help you, not dangers to avoid but momentary rest stops to help you regain your strength, your resolve, your outlook for the next battle against the waves. Yes, we have to slide back off the rock and continue our push toward Christ but along the way there will always be rocks upon which to rest.’

         Completing his story, my friend sat back and, if we were in a Conan Doyle story, this would be where we both grab our shag of tobacco and refill our pipes, lighting them and allowing the room to be filled with the satisfying aroma of a decent black shag tobacco. Once satisfied that our pipes were good for a full bowl, we would sit back and consider the analogy as to how it fit our circumstances.

         I confess that I long for a time again when I could enjoy a pipe full of tobacco or at least the pleasant smell of such a peaceful combination of pipe tobacco, smoke and the night air.

  The analogy is a well-received one though I take issue with it on Christological grounds and perhaps a hermeneutical argument as to what God’s word says  about Christ’s intercessory role in particular. I believe that the Word of God finds Christ more either swimming alongside us, in a boat next to us seeking to pull us in or laying out the rocks for us and holding our hands as we access each one. When Peter sank into the depths while trying to walk on water to Christ, Jesus was there to reach down and pull him out not cheer him on from the boat or the shore. That, though, is the view from a scholarly viewpoint not the viewpoint of someone who is dragging along a chain under water while trying to survive the gale.

That Christ sometimes feels far away from us as we struggle, though, is not the point of the story but rather the rocks. God gives us rocks! Most of your rocks may come from family but maybe they will be ones from complete strangers like my encounter with the woman and her five-year-old son. The point is that we will have times where we are struggling in the depths of the seas and we will occasion upon some rocks. The question is what you will do with them and can you let them be your moment of respite before you again continue to swim toward that distant shore we envision as our final rest. It would be great to come upon a great big rock where we could erect a hammock and remain there indefinitely. That unfortunately does not appear to be how this analogy works. Maybe one thing we can do for others who find themselves overcome by the waves is let them share our rock, point them to more rocks of their own, even perhaps be a rock for them when they need a break.

That’s all I have. Just giving you this as something to ruminate on with your next shag of tobacco. But, whatever you decide, may I suggest along with that pleasing pipe of tobacco, order for yourself, LIFE, on the rocks.    

Thank you to Sirisak Nilubon for his powerful art work from

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