Q: Archbishop J, do you have a hobby?
From the time I was very young, around five years old, the sea was part of my life. Most weekends we went to the sea. Then my father and his brother built a boat, Cacique.
We began going down the islands every other weekend. One Christmas, I was given a three-foot round wake board. That was my delight.
On the long journey, I was behind the boat riding the wake and enjoying myself. One year, my father and his two brothers went to Grenada for two weeks. Uncles Ken and Andre had houses on the shore. We lived on the boat. The children moved between the three places. Those were enjoyable memories of my childhood.
There is something that happens to me when I am on the sea. I cannot explain it. Calm, connection, magical and just old plain delight. From a child, my hobbies have been around water: spearfishing, rowing, swimming, water polo. I even swam competitively for a short time. The water always connected me to God.
Dad ran a water sports facility out of Chaquacabana, for several years. From age ten, my long holidays were spent there on the beach every day, rowing and swimming and assisting generally. It was a great time and space for a child.
In 2004, I did a 30-day retreat. Right after that, I bought an inflatable kayak, and it gave me many years of great delight. I would go alone or with others, usually to Five Islands and had many a great voyage. I have kayaked consistently since then.
When I kayak, I let the world go and all responsibility and challenges. There is the ocean, the boat, God, and me. This is where I am most completely at home both in myself and in God. When you are on the water, you are not in control, you are in God’s hands.
This year I got a new 17-foot sit-inside sea kayak. I decided to take my kayaking up a level, so I looked for an opportunity to learn new skills.
During my recent holiday, I participated in two different kayaking learning experiences. One with Randi Kuger of Capital City Kayaks and the second was a kayaking symposium at a national park in Maryland called Kiptopeke. It was organised by Rick Wiebush.
I wanted to learn to roll a kayak! Well, it sure looks easier in a video than it does in real life. I spent many minutes upside down in the water. It was a huge learning experience.
First, when things get bad and you turn over, how do you get to safety? In the Christian life, when things go bad and you have a proper mess on your hands, how do you get to safety? You get out of the situation of temptation. But you also need to learn rescue: how to get back in the boat and begin paddling again? Reconciliation. These are core skills. And then, there is rolling, when you are in danger of capsizing, you will need the skill of flow and recover. This is the art of facing temptation, but never moving your eyes from Christ. You recover!
The reptilian brain
My first big learning is that there are several control centres in the human. To roll you do a setup which is the paddle on one side of the boat. The boat then turns over.
Underwater you are supposed to move your hands in a sweeping motion, following it with your eyes. You keep your head away from the water surface to keep your centre of gravity low. A hip flex at the end of the sweep should have you righted. Well, theory is always different from practice.
Each time I went over my reptilian brain kicked in and I reacted contrary to the instructions and to the motion I practised. You know that fight or flight mechanism that kicks in when you are under threat? Well, that takes over when I am under water. What a great learning experience!
I had to move beyond my reptilian brain before I could begin getting any response that resembled what was expected. This learning is counter-intuitive. It is like Peter walking on the water: the moment he moves his eyes from Christ, he sinks. How do we stand in danger and keep our eyes on Christ? This is discipleship training 101.
Being upside down in the water gives you a unique perspective and experience. Everything is opposite to what your instinct tells you. Try imagining yourself upside down and seeing the world that way. I could not.
And yet this is so vital for living a Christian life. When I am upside down, I do everything to get air—to save my life. Yet Jesus says— anyone who seeks to save his or her life will lose it (Mt 16:25). This is so true when you are trying to roll. You must deliberately seek to counteract your instinct to save your life if you are to be successful. For this, you need to always keep your eye on the paddle. Yup, keep your eye on Jesus always.
GK Chesterton in his book on St Francis of Assisi has a wonderful meditation on St Francis seeing Assisi upside down, with all the buildings and trees and grounds and gardens in place, just upside down.
He says: “He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.” (Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St Francis by GK Chesterton https://a.co/8Kkrnut).
To be a Christian is to see the world upside down. What the world and instinct believe is good, is not necessarily so.
To navigate with a map upside down is challenging. What you think is left is really right; what you think is up is really down. The first will be last and the last will be first—that is upside down.
One slogan says, “If it feels good, do it.” Really? We are told to strive to become rich and famous, yet Jesus says the meek will inherit the world. St Francis saw the world upside down and spoke of sister poverty and sister death. He praised God for the creation and saw it as a sibling.
In a synodal Church, we all must learn to see the world upside down. Relationships are more important than projects. Progress is through building fellowship with God and each other.
If we want to be good at anything we need to put ourselves in a learning mode and practise, practise, practise.
When last have you put yourself in a learning mode? For a hobby, profession, or faith? If you want an opportunity to grow your faith, sign in to formed.org and choose one course that excites you and follow it. Or sign up for Bible School or any of CREDI’s courses.