"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Memorial Service for Donald George Barrie Jones

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Matthew 8:23-27

23 And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Psalm 107:23-30

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;

24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.

25 For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.

26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;

27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men,
and were at their wits’ end.

28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;

29 he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.

30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

We’ve heard two readings from Scripture – this miraculous calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and a reading from Psalm 107, ‘they that went down to the sea in ships’.

I first met Barrie through the sailing community on Lake Winnipeg, and my many experiences on that lake sailing with Barrie made these two readings perfect for today’s memorial service. The image of storm-tossed chaos is also one that accurate reflects what we are feeling here today, as we look for a place of comfort and refuge in which to weather the storm of loss.  It is equally appropriate given today’s storm, as we’re experiencing our own bit of chaos.

Sailing was a great love of Barrie’s life, and he sailed as he lived all life – to the absolute fullest. Barrie is the one person I’ve met who truly lived out Thoreau’s goal of living life deliberately, living life deeply and sucking out the very marrow of life. He did this in every aspect of his life, and whatever new challenge he set before himself Barrie would wrestle with it until he had achieved some mastery of the task.

The storm these disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee was terrifying, and remember that among this group were the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John, who had grown up plying their trade on the sea. These were not inexperienced men when it came to sailing. We’re talking about a storm of truly biblical proportion, beyond anything they had previously encountered. You can be sure they used all the tricks they had learned at the sailor’s school of hard knocks, and still the boat was in the danger of being swamped, to the point that they were convinced they were about to die. Through all this, the non-sailor, Jesus, the carpenter’s son sleeps. After the storm they are left asking, what manner of man is this?

Lake Winnipeg is an unusual place – it is huge, the eleventh largest freshwater lake in the world, but very shallow, with an average depth of 9 metres or about 25 feet in the south basin. That setup means you can have very large waves that develop very quickly – as an example the mast on a Catalina 27 sailboat is about 40 feet high, and there were times sailing in storms that the boats we were with would disappear into the trough of a wave, so that we could only see the very top of the mast across the wave crest.

The reason I have some experience with storms on Lake Winnipeg is because storm sailing was Barrie’s favorite type of sailing. I never saw him as happy and full of life as when he was standing at the tiller, with the boat heeled over 15 degrees, a double reef in the main and a storm jib up. He would stand there with a huge grin on his face and shout, “Come on wind!” This gives us an interesting reversal involving the disciples and Jesus – not that I’m suggesting that Barrie would ever be asleep in a storm, but it was clear that he was at home in the storm.

The act of turning a sailboat is a team event that requires some careful choreography.  The skipper starts with a warning, “ready about”, and when ready the crew responds “ready”.  The skipper then responds, “helms ‘a lee” and throws the rudder hard over to initiate the turn.  What follows is a bit of panic, as the boom swings over and the crew scramble to throw off the ropes controlling the sails, and to winch them in on the other side.  If all goes well, with a good ship and crew, this turn is a thing of beauty.   I learned this art with Barrie.  As I was driving in the blowing swirling snow from Gimli this morning, I was thinking about those turns.  It’s like Barrie is saying to us all, “ready about!” and looking to us expectantly for the proper response…and all we can say at this point is “no, we’re not ready.”  And yet the sailboat continues on…and we are left to serve as crew as best we can.

Storms in the bible are an image of chaos, of a return to the primal state of existence that was the pre-creation world. Storms in our world are bringers of chaos, and if you’ve live through a severe storm, or watched those events on television, you’ll know what I mean. While the storm image is a powerful one, and particularly as it comes to Barrie (who himself was sometimes a stormy bringer of chaos), it is also a good image to describe what we’re experiencing today – for grief and loss are themselves a form of that storm-tossed chaos. In the past few days we’ve all felt this chaos, as we’ve considered the end of a life well-lived.

In the creation account in the Bible, the first thing we hear is of God’s spirit hovering over the (in Hebrew) tohu wavbohu the formless chaos of the pre-creation world. God’s creative action is to bring order to that formless chaos, to set night and day, and dry land and seas. Jesus, asleep in the storm-tossed boat, is a parallel of that creation account – God bringing order and peace to the chaos. As the reading from the Gospel ends, the disciples are well justified in asking the question, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and seas obey him?”

There were many times in that sailboat, I looked at Barrie and asked a similar question, usually involving a bit more profanity. // That image of Barrie, at the tiller, riding through the storm, alive and vibrant, is the one I will always carry with me as the iconic image of who he was. We have this picture here that shows us the sailor, Barrie. That image of Barrie, joyously riding through the chaos of the storm, is one we should hold with us as we seek to ride through our own chaotic storm of grief. Even as we are convicted as to the finality of death, and our helplessness in the face of the storm, find comfort in the knowledge that Barrie was most at home in that chaos.

Leonard Cohen wrote in the song “Suzanne”, that when Jesus recognized that only drowning people could see him, he said that all humanity shall be sailors, until the sea shall free them. This is a profound bit of theology, describing this chaos we find ourselves surrounded with today – in fact, we are all sailors, travelling on the sometimes storm-tossed reality of life in the world. As we sail through that chaos, hold tight to that image of Jesus asleep in the boat, and Barrie, sure at the tiller. While I was often terrified in those sailing encounters, I was always confident that we would make it back to the harbor. As Barrie offered me a steady hand on the tiller in the midst of my terror, today we turn to God and each other to steady us as we navigate the waves.

This is what the Psalm speaks about – the reality that even in the midst of chaos in this world, and even when we are certain that our ship will be swamped by the changes and chances of this troublesome world, we are under the oversight of a Master with a sure hand on the tiller. The Psalm recounts the experience of those who go down to the sea in ships, who are tossed about on the storms – storms so profound the waves stretch up to the heavens and down to the sea bottom. The sailors cry out, and God delivers them from the storm. There’s an important point to note in the Psalm – this chaos of the storm is not some random event which happens to God’s people, but the storm itself is under God’s control…and indeed after the sailors cry out in their trouble, the storm is calmed, and the waves hushed. As we sail through the storm of our grief, don’t hesitate to call out for assistance, to ask for the storm to be calmed.

The Psalm comes to a confident end – the storm is calmed, and the sailors are brought to their desired haven. The Hebrew word here translated as ‘haven’ (machowz – maw-khoze’) means a place of safety, enclosed from the sea, a safe harbor, a place of refuge. Having ridden through some of those storms with Barrie, there was no greater comfort than finally coming back in sight of the harbor and knowing that we would soon be tied up in the berth and able to walk again on solid ground.

What may come next as Barrie sets forth on this final sail in this present world, is filled with mystery.  But, if you’ve ever watched a sailboat travel away, you know that the boat diminishes in size until it finally disappears over the horizon.  The boat, to you as observer, has effectively vanished from sight, and is gone from your awareness.  By faith, you know the boat still journeys on, even while you can’t see it.  This us a good metaphor for our present sadness.  Barrie travels to his final destination, on a ship named Special Lady, and has presently disappeared from our view over the horizon.  What we know by faith is that he sails on, to the haven prepared for him.

Our prayer today, as we ride the storm-tossed waves of grief, is that we too will know that deliverance from distress, and that we too will be brought to that desired haven.

I’ll close this short reflection with a portion of the traditional prayer for the Navy, for those who sail the seas:

O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants … and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies to praise and glorify Thy Holy name. Amen.

———————————————-

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

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Written by sameo416

January 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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