Do you remember learning to swim? I do. Not the first day in the water, but the Saturday mornings I spent at Bohler Gym, struggling to learn new strokes, tread water for 10 minutes, dive off the side of the pool and then the diving board. I passed junior lifesaving when I was too young to be certified, and senior lifesaving a couple years later. I was a good swimmer, though not an athlete, and swimming was my 'sport' in those days. In junior high I began synchronized swimming, after an instructor told me it would be a shame to destroy my pretty breast stroke by racing. I loved synchronized swimming (though I really loathe the over-the-top makeup and costumes now seen in the Olympics. There was something about all those tricks and flips in the water--feet pointed straight in the air while upside-down--that really appealed to me. Even now when I get in the water, I love to practice them, though a chubby 50-year-old really has no business sticking her bum in the air! In college, I got my WSI (Water Safety Instructor) and began working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. Holding slick little bodies, I helped them get over fear, put their heads in the water, swim back to the wall from an increasing distance. Yep, I've been a water person all my life--it's my natural habitat, I've sometimes thought, just as the basketball court is the Beve's.
Most of my swimming experience was in pools where I could open my eyes and watch where I was going. But in the summers, at our family's cabin on Whidbey Island, I swam in Deer Lake--and always kept my eyes firmly shut. At Girl Scout and Campfire Girls Camp, I also swam in lakes, once even across the large bay of Cour de 'Alene Lake. The Beve doesn't like lake swimming at all. He has an irrational fear of something lurking in the depths, something that might reach out and bite him. (We all have irrational fears--I'm terrified of high, windy mountain roads--though I don't usually admit that fear is anything but a natural consequence of a scary situation!). But I'll swim anywhere, any way. Even when the water's frigid, full of waves and salt.
I've been thinking this morning about how the life of a disciple is like learning to swim--particularly in a dark and deep lake. There's a whole school of thought that one should throw a small child into water and they'll learn to swim--one way or another. But I don't buy this. I don't actually believe there are shortcuts to learning how to stay safe and alive in the water. How to become good at it. And so it is as a disciple.
"The trouble is is that in the spiritual life there are no tricks and shortcuts." Thomas Merton
There's no diving into the deep end without learning how to swim to shore. We have to start at the beginning. We have to learn to breath. In fact, I'm not sure there actually is such a thing as being an expert in this life of faith. We're all Beginners, as those first learning to swim are called. The thing is, the lake that is God is immeasurably deep--deeper than Crater Lake, which is the deepest lake I know. God is unfathomably deep, and what we see of Him, get to know of Him will never come close to plummeting those depths. What we can see of Him is far less than what He is. We simply have to swim where we are, learning to be okay with never touching the bottom. Lean back and float in the lake--the ocean--that is Him, trusting that what we can't see is safe and free from monsters. In fact, aren't the best treasures beneath the surface? There's a whole world to see--He's a great lake, the very ocean itself, our God is, and I want to see what there is to see--as far as I can see. Let me--let us!--learn to open our eyes in the water.
We can spend all our lives, swimming by faith, and still only be beginners. "We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we'll never be anything else but beginners." Thomas Merton
Learn your strokes, learn how to breath, tread water, then plug your nose and dive in--there aren't monsters, but treasures in the water that is our God.