Many people never learn to float. They never manage to take the initial risk, to do the opposite of what their instincts tell them. They never learn to relax, to let their head be pillowed by the water, to let go, hang loose, float free. Perhaps they simply decide they don’t want to take the risk. They make their choice to be “landlubbers,” and they busy themselves on the shore with all the amusements they can enjoy without getting their feet wet. If they are honest, they occasionally gaze wistfully at the sea and the floaters and think what might have been for them—if only they could take the risk. But if they are foolish, they turn their backs resolutely to the sea and gradually, as the land alone fills their gaze over the years, convince themselves that the sea is a mirage for those foolish enough to look in the opposite direction, that there is no such thing as floating, that the distant voices of the floaters behind them are really no voices at all.
This paragraph is partially taken out of context from Thomas Green’s book, When the Well Runs Dry. Here it forms a wonderful allegory that works on several levels.
On one level, the “landlubbers” are those people too caught up in skepticism and cynicism, too caught up in the ways of the world to relax and “do the opposite of what their instincts tell them.” They have closed their hearts to the grace of faith and to the possibilities of God. The floaters represent those people who have taken the risk to believe in God.
On another level, the landlubbers are those people who do believe in God, who may or may not go to church on a regular basis, but still have not let go of the ways of the world. They have faith but are still caught up in pursing success in society’s terms. Or, as often is the case, the landlubbers busy themselves with being religious on their own terms, not God’s. The floaters have taken to heart the simple saying, “let go, let God” and float among the currents where God leads them.
On still another level is the idea of ones prayer life. This one is a little trickier to describe. Both the landlubbers and floaters have faith and a prayer life of some form or another. Both landlubbers and floaters know, or at least allow the Holy Spirit to work in them to pray. They are both open to God’s grace. In prayer, both landlubbers and floaters practice all the forms of prayer like petitions, thanksgiving, adoration and such. Landlubbers, like floaters, may even take the opportunity at times to learn to be still and “listen” to God. All of this is important for a heathy and balanced prayer life. The difference is that landlubbers are often like Martha within prayer—they are busy doing prayer. Floaters are like Mary—they “be” in prayer.
Thomas Green goes on to describe more about floating in our relationship with God:
It is puzzling to see what a difficult art floating really is—difficult not because it demands much skill, but because it demands much letting go. The secret of floating is in learning not to do all the things we instinctively want to do. We want to keep ourselves rigid, ready to save ourselves the moment a big wave comes along, and yet the more rigid we are the more likely we are to be swamped by the waves. If we relax in the water we can be carried up and down by the rolling sea and never be swamped. We want to keep our heads out of the water to avoid having our noses and mouths filled with the sea, but the more we raise our heads, the more likely we are to be unbalanced and to end up with a noseful of water. If we can persuade ourselves to put our heads back, to rest on the water as on a pillow, we don’t sink; we float! Once we have discovered this by experience, floating is never difficult again. It seems so easy now that we find it hard to imagine why we ever thought it difficult. We are at home in the sea.
To learn to float essentially means learning to trust the water, learning to let go and let God.