My last entry was water-related and this one is, too, although this one's metaphorical.
I’ve been reading When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings by Thomas H. Green, S.J. (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1998). I’m intrigued by his idea of “floating.” Learning to float on water is surprisingly difficult, even though all we have to do is relax. We’re afraid of sinking and afraid of losing control. But when we can relax, floating is fairly easy. “The whole experience of the dark night [of the soul] or the cloud of unknowing appears to be the Lord’s way of trying to make floaters out of swimmers. He, it seems, definitely wishes us to float. He wants us to have as our goal our total surrender to the flow of this tide” (pp. 144-145). God doesn’t want us to float aimlessly, but rather by asking us to trust him and "relax", he can lead us effectively.
As I read this, I thought of Hebrews 2:1. In that letter, the author warns people about abandoning their newly-found Christian faith, but he is also concerned with people drifting away from faith, like an unsecured boat. “Drifting” in this sense is different from the “floating” which Fr. Green intends. You drift when you’re careless about your faith and don’t maintain your side of your relationship with God. “Floating” is a serious and deliberate act of surrender, especially in times of distress and uncertainty.
In turn, I thought of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
I worry that we only truly embrace the part of that prayer that reads, “put me to doing.” Our congregations have become so structured like top-down businesses that must grow; judicatory officials expect results from pastors or the latter are deemed ineffective; we’d never believe the Spirit wants us to be empty and “laid aside” for a season.
But what if the Holy Spirit wished for us, in both our personal and congregational lives, to trust that the unproductive times, and even the dark nights of the soul, are ways by which God leads us? We might discover that too much "doing" is simply our own efforts to control God's guidance: Fr. Green calls this "swimming" instead of "floating."