Catch the Wind

It was back in 1974. We were in the Ship Inn in the snug, planning and strategising. Tuesday night was always Guinness training, though the Irish drink was always too heavy for me so I settled for a Mackeson. About my height and with longer hair, and much more round, Hoss was known for 2 things: He always wore the same leather waistcoat and he snored loudly. Lampy, on the other hand, had just one claim to fame. He was very tall!

We were planning a trip to Mersea Island at the same time as the festival which featured the Incredible String Band and T-Rex who were on the bill. Our parents wouldn’t let us go, so someone suggested doing the next best thing… sailing! Lampy’s parents had a dingy moored down on the island. He’d done a bit over the years, so 'let’s give it a try', he suggested. We travelled down. Next morning we’re on the quayside donning orange sailing jackets we’re running across a pebbly beach pushing a small sailing dinghy towards the water and looking ridiculous, waves are splashing all around us. We bob up and down in the water. Before we’d left the shores, Lampy had told us about an important discipline in sailing called ‘tacking’. In fact, he’d even shown us, in the sailing handbook for beginners, that ‘if you’re afraid of capsizing, your tacking will be at best mediocre’.

Once we were acclimatised, Lampy told us it was time to tack. He shouted something, I can’t remember what it was, but it made a guttural sound. Then we had to lean out. It was scary but the boom swung violently across our heads. Somehow the act of leaning had a correlation with us catching the wind. Lampy was leaning right out, he’d done it before. I never did catch the bug for sailing; I got a bit scared, but I could see our speed and trajectory was dependent on trusting the wind. The more we leaned, the faster we would go. As the handbook said, if you are afraid of capsizing, your tacking will be mediocre. It came natural to Lampy; I was far too cautious. With an evident smile across his face he was abandoned to the moment. From the distance I could hear some music from the festival wafting over across the bay. Someone was singing. It was an old Bill Withers song; something about ‘Lean on Me’.

We all have a tendency to get stuck in our ways, preferring to rely on predictable patterns of self-reliance. Songwriter, Billy Bragg, put it succinctly when he wrote of a character that was “trapped in a haircut that he no longer believed in”. The process of breaking free often involves times of confusion, disorientation and disillusionment, but these things, when embraced fully, can have the power to become the catalyst to propel us beyond ourselves.

Some believe that God will come at the last minute; the 11:59 God, one minute before we turn into Cinderella. I’m not so sure I believe that. Sometimes it’s one minute past 12 that he comes, because when we reach the end of out tether we begin to learn the secret of trust.

150 years ago, the artist Degas famously wrote “only when the artist no longer knows what he’s doing does he do good things”. I have found that the most creative people I know are the ones who face the most self-doubt before embarking on a new creative venture. The accumulated knowledge through past work or achievements does not satisfy; they prefer to dig deeper risking reputation or criticism in the exploration of something new. Surely any true act or worship requires a letting go of the tried and tested formulas from our natural resources and mind and to step into another dimension entirely. To use an analogy, past data on how to cope stored on the hard drives of our lives pales into insignificance compared with the possibilities of plugging into the super information highway.

Part of my journey has been to identify with the apostle Paul who wrote “of myself, I can do nothing” but gradually another light is dawning, that everything is possible when our weakness is infused with divine strength.

Perhaps we could all do well to heed the call of Lampy to abandon our mediocrity and to lean out fully to catch the wind.