Last Sunday afternoon, floating down the Toccoa River in a yellow inner tube outside of Blue Ridge, I began thinking about the Celtic saints and pilgrims who trusted t heir lives to God in a tiny, one person sailing vessel, called a coracle.
My large yellow plastic/rubber conveyance moved lazily downstream, carried by the current while I rested in the tube, arms and legs dangling over the side, hands and feet being the only means of steering the “craft.” My trip began frantically because I was determined to remain in control of the river by kicking hard and using the hands in some semi-coordinated method to creat a semblance of control over the vessel.
Somewhere along the route I remembered the pilgrims and their coracles. These early Christians put out to sea in their tiny, handmade round boats made of willow branches and covered with water tight skins. The coracle had neither sail nor rudder, the pilgrim taking a paddle and a heavy dose of faith, trusting that God would lead.
I remembered St. Columba, the Irish Christian pilgrim who brought the gospel message to Scotland, perhaps the most famous missionary who used the coracle. In the 6th century he set sail from Ireland in his little boat, crossing the sea, pushed by wind and current, landing in the wilds of Scotland where he founded a monastic community at Iona from which he spread the message of Jesus.
Those who journeyed in coracles trusted God. They journeyed with God to find God. By contrast, I was wildly kicking my feet and flailing my arms to steer my craft. When I decided, within reason, to trust the current my trip became much more pleasant.
Now I began enjoying the tree canopy overhead. The current and eddies would sometimes take me right alongside the river bank where I saw the most incredible reflection of sunlight on the branches of the rhododendron. It looked like liquid fire coursing up and down the branches. Rather than avoiding the rocks on the river I found myself bouncing off them, letting the current choose my direction and merrily spinning on down the river.
As three pilgrims who sailed to England in the 9th century said to King Alfred, “We stole away because we wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.”
Life cannot always be this simple — nor is every river as gentle as the Toccoa that day. Even those early pilgrims presumably took paddles. When I neared the end of my tubing trip I had to paddle with arms and legs to make sure I pulled out of the river at the proper location. Had I not done so, this column would have ended quite differently.
There is a balance between taking initiative on one’s own and giving oneself up completely to the trust of God. But most of us could use more training in faithful trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. A tubing trip down the Ocmulgee River could provide the opportunity for just such reflection.
The Rev. Creede Hinshaw, a retired United Methodist pastor of 36 years, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.