I looked at this hymn tune a few years ago, but today I happened upon a version with different words and it sort of spoke to me. That doesn’t happen very often, so I felt it was worth a second arrangement and a few moments thinking about this new, to me, text. These incredible words were written by Jessie Adams around 1907. She was a Quaker teacher in England, but not much else is known about her.
I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift,
though heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift;
if hope but light the water’s crest,
and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at his behest,
and brave another cruise.
It is the wind of God that dries
my vain regretful tears,
until with braver thoughts shall rise
the purer, brighter years;
if cast on shores of selfish ease
or pleasure I should be,
O let me feel your freshening breeze,
and I’ll put back to sea.
If ever I forget your love
and how that love was shown,
lift high the blood-red flag above;
it bears your name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way,
you will not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today,
today my sail I lift.
I’m not sure there is much I can add to these words. What is the thing that sends its wind into your sail? That persistent, cleansing, driving, rejuvenating, reminding force that keeps you going? I know it is different for each of us. I know some find it difficult to find, others choose to ignore its positive potential in favour of selfish or superficial breezes. But I can’t help reading these words and thinking that the piloting energy we choose to engage enables us to live life fully and honourably. This choice determines whether our sails are worth lifting.
This has been such a strange time. We are so tired. Consider how the absence of regular life has impacted you. The restrictions. The shortages. The loneliness. The fear. The loss of jobs. The threat of untimely death. The boredom. The disappointments. The breakdown of our economies. The failed businesses and organizations. The need to protect oneself at all times. The awareness required in all our activities. The lack of easy communication and gathering. It is draining and it is wearing us down.
We have lost a bit of freedom. It seems to be exhausting many of us. But it is for the greater good, so we carry on as best we can and hope for solutions that will return us to lives that are full and interesting and move in the directions we desire. We assume we will regain what was lost, or at least regain the ability to rebuild. We are weary, but able to be hopeful.
Not every experience is like this. Some hopes are dashed repeatedly. Across generations. It is not lost on me that those who suffer at the hands of oppression are infinitely more exhausted than what we are feeling after a couple of months of isolation in this pandemic. And it is not lost on me that what we choose to hear as this wind blows is critically important right now. This is a storm borne from poor choices. My poor choices. My complacency as a white person, comfortable with my life and its privilege. Neglectful of the weariness of those with very different life experiences. I don’t know what the answers are, but I know that something must change. To require people to live with injustice, fear and exhaustion for so long is simply reprehensible.
We choose the wind that steers our sails. We choose the direction we go, the route and the speed. We can find ways to be reminded of our vainest tears, and the times we forget that love is a flag that must be held high regardless of its weight or our weakness. We can choose to change the world. We can choose to make whatever sacrifice is needed to ensure all are able to sail in safety. We can brave another cruise and feel a refreshing breeze. We can.