change despair

Ready or Not

12:36:00 PMChase J. Cloutier

File:Buttersworth - flying cloud.jpg
A solitary ship set out from harbor toward the open sea, a spirit of hope carrying it along. The sun slowly rose above the horizon; the morning had just barely broken. Strong winds filled the broad sails of the ship, invisibly drawing the sailors out to sea, as if subtly yet powerfully urging them onward. The captain, marked with determination to reach their destination, decided what course they were to take. They planned to come upon the rich island port in two weeks’ time. If only they could reach the island, perhaps they too could share in its renowned wealth and prosperity.


Yet about a week into the journey, in the dead of night, a horrible storm came upon them. The gates of heaven opened, and a deluge of rain poured down such as they had never seen before. Lightning of blinding intensity split the darkness, and deafening thunder shattered the silence. Immense waves rose up against them, threatening to destroy the ship. And what’s more, they were heading into the heart of the storm. The captain knew he had to change course if they were to survive, if they were to attain their goal. He gave the order and the sailors rushed to make the necessary changes to the sails as he steered away.

The next morning, a vivid yellow-orange sun rose to greet the wearied travelers, dispelling their darkest clouds. They survived the night. They lived to see another day. The tired captain sat himself to the side for a moment, with a gleam in his eyes. He was proud of his sailors and the fight they had put up to attain their goal. They were going to make it.




In a way similar to a storm at sea, life sends so many unexpected challenges and difficulties, whether we are ready for them or not.  There are twists and turns on the journey that throw us for a loop. Some of these surprises are good: your relatives are in town and coming to visit, you passed your finals, you just got a promotion, your friend has recovered from his illness. Other unforeseen events are so formidable that they evoke dread in our hearts when we but think of them: we are in a horrible argument with a friend, our closest loved one has cancer, our company lays us off with no pension after years of service. At times it may feel that we are tossed about on the sea, threatened with our very destruction. How are we to navigate out of this storm? How are we to survive?
File:De Windstoot - A ship in need in a raging storm (Willem van de Velde II, 1707).jpgIn discussing the process of personal transformation, Dietrich von Hildebrand underscores the need for adaptability to the demands of each situation. We must stand at the helm of our ship, as it were, ready to change course should the state of the seas require it. Even so, our destination stays the same. We desire to achieve a noble virtue that is good in itself. We desire to become that which we are meant to be. We enter the fray of ongoing conversion in which we seek to become more virtuous and more responsive to what is truly important. We hold the value of pursuing personal transformation distinctly in our minds as we traverse the treacherous waters of a fickle life.

Like a son who loyally follows his father’s guidance, like the sheep who hears the beckoning voice of a shepherd, like a sailor who knows the voice of his commanding office and is faithful to his decrees, the one who desires to cultivate true virtue must have a heart open to the voice of truth. We must be rooted in a fundamental openness to the truth of what is required of us in each moment. The intrinsic worth and splendor of the good, of the valuable, should illumine our hearts and minds, giving us the fortitude to live up to the demands of the most difficult situations.

There are a multitude of examples from our daily life. The career man who is suddenly laid off must not despair. He must adapt, perhaps taking a different job in order to support his family. Or when a friendship is tried by a difficult time, one must respond to the dignity of the other, forgiving them and asking for forgiveness. Or consider: the wife whose husband has come under some deathly illness must be a light of confidence and hope for her children in the darkness of uncertainty. These challenges may seem overwhelming in the moment, like an immense wave that is going to crush us, but with the help of our loved ones and with a heart that firmly believes in the truth of love, we can make it through.

Each of us seeks happiness and, even more so, blessedness in a good way of life. We are like sailors hoping for prosperity at the end of the journey. Though we might not always account for the storms that life will send us, we can trust that we will see them through. With a confidence in the power of love in our lives and a deep trust in divine providence, no storm can keep us from reaching that blessed land.

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Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ (San Francisco, Ignatius Press: 2001). Cf. "Chapter 1: Readiness to Change". Image 1: Un Clipper. by James E. Butterworth (1817-1894).
1859-1860. (source) Image 2: "Sonnenuntergang 01" by Ec-hasslau.de (source) Image 3: The Gust. by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707). c. 1680. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. (source)

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