Faith and making it through the whitewater

“The way forward may be a winding path of trial and error that requires risk- taking and dealing with ambiguity— an unsought adventure!” Photo: dugdax
Published May 2, 2022

I like to have a clear path from the acknowledgment of a problem to its solution. If something is wrong, fix it.

If it is complicated, lay out a plan with the steps needed.

That approach works when the problem is understood and a solution can be seen—even if it may take some time to accomplish. It does not work when the problem is complex and solutions are not evident from the information or experiences of the past. The way forward may be a winding path of trial and error that requires risk-taking and dealing with ambiguity—an unsought adventure!

In the summer or fall I enjoy wilderness canoe trips, which are always adventures indeed. My companions and I can take comfort in our maps, but many unpredictable factors remain—especially the weather and the wildlife. We travel with just the essentials for food, clothing, shelter and safety, since these supplies have to be carried—either over a portage, or in a canoe which, for safety reasons, cannot be overloaded in winds and bad weather.

We prepare for what we know, and trust we have the tools and gear necessary to adapt if we meet the unexpected. There are days of slow, steady travel and predictability— and then there are days when nothing goes the way we had planned. Every trip ends with stories to tell: Remember when the bear snuffled the tent! Remember when that storm caught us on the lake! Remember when we lost our way!

For a few years I also shared in whitewater trips, where instability and change are daily fare. There may be stretches of calm water followed by a life- threatening wild run where every ounce of your concentration and skill is needed.

Although skill will keep you upright and help you navigate the rocks and waves, you know you are not in control of the water. The river is powerful and carries you along whether you are on the water or in it, near an upside-down canoe!

The life of faith is surely an adventure also! It places us sometimes on a slow- moving river with predictable strokes and patterns of life, and at other times a wild, whitewater run of change. We are surely on one of those whitewater stretches now, as powerful forces of social, political and economic change reshape our world. As I write this reflection, we see daily images of the horrific war in Ukraine. By the time you read it, that war may have ended—or we may be in a bigger conflagration that engulfs the world. We are being carried along by powerful forces that are not ours to control, though we can at least pray, offer compassionate support and advocate for peace.

Today calls for change in how we live out our faith and respond to the rapidly shifting environment. We will need to call on the skills we have, the knowledge of our tradition; but we cannot turn back or slow these developments. We can only concentrate on this moment in time and ask what is needed now to be faithful to our calling to reflect the Good News.

The disciples, in the time that followed the Resurrection, were also living day to day—in their case, into the joy unleashed by the risen Christ. They too had to ask, “What does this Good News ask us to be and do today?” Their faithfulness handed on the hope of the gospel to us. Now we must live it in a different time, but with equal faithfulness. May their courage be ours today and tomorrow, whatever adventure lies before us!



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