I went kayaking today. This time of year I don’t get to go as often as I would like. It’s not the cold that bothers me so much, it’s the wind speeds that I have to watch. It’s notoriously windy in these parts during the fall and winter and a strong westerly wind makes it almost impossible for me to get very far on the lake and it can be dangerous. I kayak alone most of the time, so my husband also watches windspeed and keeps me prudent in my desire to get on the water.
It’s taken sometime, but my husband now seems to understand that I need to kayak. I exercise regularly to maintain better health, but I kayak to relax, work through spiritual and daily struggles, and to commune with God. I will literally take my struggles out on the lake. It can handle my hard, frustrated paddling. No matter how hard or how gently I paddle, the lake continues to let me glide across the water. Taking my stress out on the lake doesn’t hurt anyone or anything.
I have had paddles where I am paddling with all of my might as tears stream down my face and I try to work through a problem I’m facing. Interiorly I will be venting whatever I’m trying to work through. It’s not really the lake I’m talking to. It’s God. I commune with Him outdoors more than anywhere except before the Tabernacle containing His Real Presence. When I look out over the mountains I see Him. I hear Him in the breeze and the birdsong and He is the one pushing me onward as I figure out what I’m supposed to do next. He is the one who tells me to be still when it’s time to stop fighting.
Kayaking is where I find great stillness both within myself and in creation. The seasons teach me a lot about life, especially the spiritual life. It’s winter, so the trees and mountainside are still and laid bare. There’s very little wildlife except for an occasional bird. I’m largely alone on the lake with the exception of the occasional fisherman. During late-fall and winter, most of my kayaking is done in the afternoon when it’s slightly warmer. In the spring and summer, I am out at dawn so that I can watch the sun come up over the mountains and pray Lauds.
When I was younger my outdoor sports were usually spent with friends. We raced down Class V rapids, learned how to snowboard together (if you make it past the first day then you’re golden!), climbed, rappelled, hiked, camped, and biked. A lot of it was the adrenaline rush, but most of the time it was how my friends and I spent time together. I’ve always been enraptured by sunrise and sunset and I’d make my friends stop and take it in with me.
These days I spend my time on the water mostly alone. My friends are mothers like me with all of the demands of that vocation. And now that I’m married, I only hang out with my male friends in groups. Two of my friends come out with me when they can. I’m also the mother of one child rather than many and now that she’s older, I’m able to head to the lake on my own more or bike or run on the local Greenway while she’s at school. My husband prefers canoeing to kayaking, so we canoe as a family in summer months, but by-in-large it’s just my kayak, me, the lake, any wildlife I see, and God.
I’ve come to see how much I need this time on the water by myself. There is a deeply spiritual dimension to it for me, but I also need to work through struggles or simply be at rest in the sunshine and on the glassy water. My deep connection to beauty means that being outside refreshes, rejuvenates, and heals those broken places within my soul that are a part of being human and in relationships with other people. It’s the one place outside of the Mass where I feel free to give everything up to God.
This is not some New Age nonsense, rather, it is an encounter with the Living God through His creation who is present to me as I make my way across the lake. Each moment on the water is one He ordained for me to be there with Him. I can hand Him my pain, frustration, stress, and anger. I can simply be with Him: good day or bad day. This life isn’t easy and He finds ways to reach each one of us in our particular nature and this is one of the main ways He reaches me.
I’m also never lonely while I’m out on the lake by myself. In fact, being outside often makes any sense of loneliness disappear. All of us struggle with being understood at a deeper level than most people understand us at. Our relationships tend to remain surface level, which is safe and easy, but can be unfulfilling. Our closest relationships–those with our spouses–with all of their great joys and blessings show us that even they cannot understand the depths within our souls. God is the only one who can understand us, even better than we understand ourselves. There are times when I’m kayaking that I feel understood at the deepest levels of my being. So being alone in these moments helps me to find that deeper connection that I long for that only comes from Him.
When I sit in awe and wonder as the sun moves above the mountains at sunrise or the water shimmers like diamonds in the afternoon light I can feel the tension being released from my body. Looking out over the beauty before me is a reminder that whatever I’m working through in the present will pass and be made right if not in this life then in the next life. Through beauty, He draws me close. If this was simply about relieving stress then I’d go for a run, but it’s much more than that.
I don’t always leave the lake with the answers I am seeking. In fact, a lot of the time the same issues are waiting for me on shore, but I find new strength to face them or new insight God has given me through prayer. We often make prayer complicated or overthink it. Other than praying Lauds or Vespers–depending on when I’m on the lake–I simply pour myself out to God. Sometimes I yell a great deal internally when things have gotten particularly difficult. I don’t yell audibly lest I startle the wildlife and the fishermen on the lake with me. While I don’t think my life is harder than anyone else’s, experiencing four miscarriages, a chronically ill husband, a chronically ill father, an intense spiritual life, and the difficulties we all face in our relationships with other people, means that I tend to have plenty to work through on each new paddle. Beauty and being outside is how God brings me solace especially during spiritually intense periods.
There are times when I simply look up and look out so that I can take it all in. My mind finally quiets–this is hard for me–and I can simply enter into the moment and the splendor around me. And there are times I simply paddle across the lake and that’s that. I’ve even had days when I get out on the water and realize I don’t really want to be there for some reason, but I push past it. Being on the lake is a reflection of what it is to live in this Fallen world.
So, yes, I do in fact need to kayak.