Monday, October 8, 2012

In the Doldrums

I've been in the spiritual doldrums lately.  Have you been there yourself at times?  There is nothing "wrong;" I have no complaints.  I'm just floating in a calm sea of tepid water.  Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Many years ago --when I was still a United Methodist -- I listened to a taped speech by the Dutch Priest, Henri Nouwen called "The Spirituality of Waiting."  I was in the doldrums then too.  Nouwen considers waiting a spiritual discipline akin to prayer.  He artfully makes the point that although in the modern world we are very accustomed to instant gratification, there is much to be gained in the waiting.  [Note:  I am paraphrasing as it has been many years since I've listened to this tape!]  Many people, Nouwen said,  -- good Christians at that -- dash about from one "spiritual experience" to another trying to "get somewhere" spiritually.  Instead, he suggests, there is great richness in the stillness. Waiting does not have to be a passive experience; it can be a deeply instructive.

This consideration of waiting and the doldrums got me pondering the experience of "being in the doldrums" in a nautical sense.  What must it have been like to be in a wind-powered vessel and stuck in the doldrums?  What did the crew do while they waited?  They couldn't get on a faster ship!  I tried researching the topic but was left eventually to my imagination.

I suspect that when the ship is stuck in the doldrums -- sitting motionless on a glassy sea under a hot, still, suffocating sun -- the crew quite easily falls into the doldrums themselves.  But are they permitted to sit and sulk?  Under a strong and experienced captain, the crew more likely does things they seldom have the time nor opportunity to do.  They may repair the sails, paint the mast, or clean the galley.  Perhaps they take advantage of the slack, lifeless sails to take a rare and refreshing swim in the calm sea. I feel pretty certain they do not spend too much time just staring at the sea or shouting at the sky, thinking the sea or the sky "should be" different.

So what I am I to do in the doldrums?  Maintenance, I guess.  I could fix my video on my computer so I can enjoy my video reflections again, review my training manuals, delve more deeply into the day's readings.  Or, better, enjoy more time in quiet reflection -- which is simply to be still and wait.  The doldrums allows a period of quiet to read God's Word and let it land on me just as the crepe myrtle blossom is lifted by the breeze, settling ever so gently on the pond.  To use Nouwen's phrase, "waiting is active;" I can read the scripture and allow the passage to sit until it soaks into me and is absorbed into my being, becoming part and parcel of who I am and what I have to offer; until It stagnates then ferments then ages and finally effervesces.

In the doldrums there is no where to go and nothing to be done except to listen to the silence.  And that is enough.

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