Friday, April 29, 2016

Safe Harbor

"Shadows and Light"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I just read a very interesting blog article in which a person explains why she goes to church every Sunday morning: “Church is a safe harbor for me. I can leave all my problems and my worries at the door and know that at least for the hour I’m in church, God is going to take care of me.”  

I wondered if this person may be an icon, emblematic of so many folks who turn to religion as a safe harbor that shelters them away from all the troubles of the world in the hope that God is going to make it all better.

In college I used to have a poster on the wall of my room that read:

A ship is safe in a harbor but that’s not what ships are for

I thought about that poster when I read that article about church as a safe harbor. As I see it, a spiritual path of any sort should never remove us from the everyday world of real life experience; rather faith of any kind and the practice of any sort of spiritual discipline should help to equip us for sailing on the water of life - however rough the sea may sometimes get.

I am reminded of a very astute observation by Episcopal priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor:

To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight,
admitting limits and transcending them,
falling down and rising up.
To want life with only half of these things in it is to embrace only half of life,
shutting the other half away
where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.

None of us wants pain or suffering, loss, misfortune, violence or terror to happen to us in our lives, but suffering exists and no amount of running away, no bottles of pills or artificial lights or going to church for an hour will eliminate the chaos and darkness that inevitably resides alongside the brightness of the light in life.

In the Christian Scriptures, before he is crucified, Jesus commissions his followers to continue his work of peace, justice and reconciliation in this divided and broken world. He addresses his assembled disciples who are paralyzed by fear and “scared to death” over what will happen to them now that Jesus is going away, and he tells them:

Do not let your hearts be troubled.

He doesn’t comfort them by saying, “Don’t worry, be happy because everything is all ok.” He doesn’t promise them that “God” is going to take away the troubles and make life all bright and beautiful.  No, he stands among them in the midst of all the chaos, the violence and hatred the world has to offer and he tells them not to have anxious hearts as they go out and face this troubled world. He tells them that they will always have one another and he promises that his spirit of enduring love will always abide, so their hearts need not be troubled.

It seems to me that, these “final” words of Jesus to his disciples might well be applied to any person on any sort of spiritual journey. The power of love abides with us and we have one another, so we need not hide our lives away in an artificial safe harbor because that’s not what ships are for.


  1. Hello Paul, it's so easy to want to slip into the safe harbor...but I think it's OK too. When life is turbulent and difficult we sometimes need to be kind to ourselves and give ourselves a little breather...a little that we can then turn and enter those troubled seas again with a stronger heart and a mighty does of courage. It is tempting to want to always seek out the safe harbor at all times, which is a kind of running or hiding away and as you say 'not what ships are built for'. But even ships need to come into harbor, rest up, have a little maintenance, before they set sail again. Just my thoughts xxxx

    1. Good point-as long as you don't live your life in the harbor.I also wonder if there really is such a thing as a safe harbor since we are always (simultaneously) living in a world of chaos along with a world of delight and wonder?

  2. This is so interesting, and I have another friend who feels exactly as you do. There is no safe harbor. We have to learn to be in relationship with all of it at the same time. And then perhaps we catch things early. We can let go of thoughts and emotions before they have a chance to start driving us crazy, we accept and move on without grasping or clinging, we can notice judgements but not get caught up in them, we trust that things will unfold in their own time, and we are patient with all that is occurring. And then we don't have to enter the safe harbor because we are navigating our way through. Bit by bit. I recently re-read Jon Kabat-Zinn's 7 pillars of mindfulness. Very very helpful to just come back to these. I often forget. But then we all do! Thanks, as ever, for your reminders xxx