Keep an Even Keel

People are fascinated by shipwrecks. There are songs and movies and books immortalizing details of the sinking of the Titanic and the Edmund Fitzgerald, as well as many other nautical disasters. Most of the time if you want to see what’s left after a ship sinks, you have to be a diver, but this summer, my family was able to see two Lake Superior shipwrecks on a glass-bottomed boat tour. One of the sites showed remains of the Herman H. Hettler, a wooden steamer that sank on November 23, 1926. The ship had hit a reef, and after it sank, it was a hazard for other ships traveling in the area, so several years later, it was dynamited. Of course, the ship itself is no longer in one piece, but we were able to see remnants, including the commode and bathtub from the captain’s quarters!

One thing that we could see well as we passed over the site, was the ship’s keel. 102 years later, after a hitting a reef, sinking, and being dynamited, the keel is still there. Prior to this, I didn’t know much about keels. Actually, a few weeks before our trip, I had been contemplating the phrases “even keel,” and “smooth sailing,” thinking of them as they apply to how things go for us on a day by day basis. I didn’t have any sense at all of what “even keel” meant in a nautical sense. Now that I have a seen a keel, the concept is even more meaningful.

The keel is like the backbone of the ship; it is the piece that runs through the center of the hull from front to back (fore to aft?). The components of the bottom and sides of the boat all connect to the keel.

When one thinks about what “even keel” means, balance and steadiness come to mind. A calm unruffledness, regardless of circumstances, an ability to roll with the punches. “Even keel” is about the boat. “Smooth sailing” is about what is going on outside the boat. Smooth sailing is great, and given a choice, I will choose it over stormy seas every time. But even better than smooth sailing is that internal peace that keeps my boat from rocking too much, even in high waves. The key to that steadiness is what lies at the center of my life, the keel of my boat, if you will.

It reminds me of a picture that Jesus painted about how the stability of a house depends on its foundation. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Life keeps making waves. To me, the waves are like negative emotions-feelings of fear or anger or depression or worry or inadequacy, among others. And even though I have built my life’s boat around Jesus, I don’t always have that inner peace and stability that I crave. I am too often pushed around by how I feel and exhausted by trying to stay on course. I think the key is to live centered on my faith and focused on eternity, and to re-center and re-focus when I start to wobble. To consciously turn my attention back to Jesus and stop watching the waves rolling in.

People have been working on this for centuries. Brother Lawrence lived at a monastery in the 1600’s. He made it his goal to spend all his moments connected to Christ, whatever he was doing. He talked about communicating with God even in the mundane, and since he worked in the kitchen, his mundane was peeling potatoes. Peeling potatoes, washing dishes, whatever his task was, he would remind himself to re-direct his thoughts to God. This is simple, as in “not complicated,” but not simple as in “easy.” The book The Practice of the Presence of God that records his thoughts and conversations on this subject is powerful, especially in that it reminds us that living this way takes practice.

The outcome of staying focused on Jesus, is a greater awareness of His presence, and His presence is glorious. This may just be what Paul means when he talks about “the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I don’t have much (or any) hope for keeping an even keel on my own, but when I realize that the keel of my ship is Jesus and when I repeatedly work on staying connected to Him, glory happens.

Clear back in the fifth century, St. Patrick (yes, the guy who gets us pinched if we don’t wear green on March 17) prayed,

“Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.”

Jesus said He wants this glory for us. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me.” (John 17:24)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Life is not always smooth sailing. There are big storms and windy weather, and it can get pretty choppy. May we center our lives on Jesus, and practice re-connecting to His presence no matter what we feel. May we experience the “even keel” life and inspire others to do the same.

God, thank You for being my center, my foundation, my keel. When my emotions have me feeling off balance and distressed, help me to remember the truth that You are stable and strong. Help me to connect to Your presence and experience Your glory.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)


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