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Only Sailors Make it to Heaven

Sailors are believers; believers, sailors.
Who else says,
I need the breath of God
to reach my destination?
Few souls are wind-driven in this
automated, self-propelling society.
Who even notices the wind?
Do occupants of air-conditioned
houses, offices, cars,
accustomed to ignoring
the soothing gesture of a cool breeze,
understand the gentle stirrings
of a Holy Comforter?
Only those who favour
the fan of God
trim the sail,
straining to catch every sigh
of power-saving saving power.
True, God moves
his canvas-tugging mariners
in mysterious ways.
One loses some control
when one goes sailing.
But even an opposing wind
can still be harnessed
by tacking,
the sailor’s zig-zag –
work and pray.

Sailors are believers; believers, sailors.
Both congregations ride the wind.
The best Pentecost sermons are those
that tell you to go fly a kite
or make a paper windmill.
A body must stay in touch with the wind,
lest he think he can motor his way to heaven:
You take Air Canada and I take the 401,
and I’ll be in the kingdom afore you.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
Wrong, says Peter; wrong, says Paul,
You gotta have wind or have nothing at all.
You can’t auto-mobile your way out of the Fall.
Only those waiting for horsepower
to come wafting over the waves
may enter the harbour of Omega Bay.
Even Michael can’t row your boat ashore.

What shall we say, then?
Shall we add a little outboard motor
so that speed may abound?
A little materialism here,
a little adultery there,
and a dab of religion everywhere?
By no means!
We died to pollution of life
and to automated religion
served up in wind-still sanctuaries.
How can we wallow in these any longer?

Sailors are believers; believers, sailors.
They add their touch of beauty
to the ravishing tableau
of land and sea,
highlighting a peace
rhythmically spelled out
wave after wave.
Their milk-white canvas
is a prayer on water,
petitioning the
wind of redemption,
brooding on the deep,
to wake their sails from sleep,
to stir the limp pennons
with a brisk flutter of her wings,
blowing the lingering hulls
with all the cloth
of heart and soul unfurled
into the open waters
of Christ’s commission
to find his brave new world.

This poem was originally published in Christian Courier on July 18, 1989.

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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