One of the things I do to maintain balance in my life is to rise early and go to the lake to paddle. I don’t go every day, but I have been known to paddle on a work day on occasion. For the most part, paddling is how I begin a day when I do not plan to go to the office. I paddle for exercise. Human-powered travel is good for the heart and muscles. And exercise is important for endurance in many fields. As a pastor, I know that there will be some long days and short nights. Being in good physical shape helps me deal with the everyday pressures of my job.
But exercise is only one of the benefits of paddling. It is also part of my spiritual discipline. Regular contact with the natural world is a good reminder of the creative power of God. It also is a time when I can focus my attention and engage in prayer. Many spiritual teachers speak of walking prayer. The rhythm of walking is used to remind faithful persons of God’s continual presence in their lives. The combination of a physical and mental exercise yields deep spiritual results. For me, paddling can take on a similar role. I don’t know how many paddle strokes it takes to go across the lake, perhaps a thousand. The motion is repetitive and gentle. What I do with my shoulders is similar to the kind of stretches that one does each day upon rising.The resistance as the paddle blade enters the water requires some physical effort, but it isn’t intense. Paddling is like walking in that one can undertake the process at various speeds, depending on how much effort one invests.
As I paddle, I am aware of the world around me. Fish rise to the surface of the lake. An occasional beaver is sighted, working alongside the shore, usually near the inlet where the creek enters the lake. Osprey and eagles soar overhead, fishing the lake. I carry a simple point and shoot camera with me. I don’t often take my larger and more capable DSLR camera out of fear of taking a spill with that particular expensive piece of equipment. My eyes can see far more than I can record with the camera. Occasionally, However, I do capture an image that reminds me my paddling adventures.
Part of the allure of paddling for me is that the process is very accessible. My canoe is hand made from simple, readily accessible materials. The canoe I paddle the most is nearly 20 years old and I’m sure it will last longer than I will. A little routine maintenance with a little sandpaper and some good varnish is all that is needed to keep it ready for the water. This particular canoe is very light and easy for me to handle without assistance, whether carrying it to and from the roof of my car or directing it through the water. The lake in which I paddle most is close to my home.
At the same time, paddling is a unique experience for me. Most days I am the only boat on the water at 5 or 5:30 am. When there are other boats, they are fishing craft, powered by outboard motors. I see lots of canoes and kayaks on the roofs of cars, but I guess most of them don’t belong to those who rise early in the morning.
Other creatures, however, seem to be left and active first thing in the morning. Deer come down to the lakeshore to drink and to eat the tender grass growing alongside the lake. The Great Blue Heron fishes alongside the shore. The geese are keeping their chicks together as they search for food and watch the complexities of tiny ones who need to learn not only to walk, but to swim and fly as well. The chicks are already very good swimmers and though a bit awkward, can waddle around on the ground. They have to wait until their adult feathers come in before they can fly. Survival comes from learning to hide and to move quickly when a predator threatens. It is too early for me to see eagle and osprey chicks. We usually don’t see them until they fledge. I know that there are deer fawns out, but they are good hiders and you can be very close to one without seeing it. Chances are pretty good the fawns are not right by the edge of the lake yet.
I am not alone when I paddle and the adventure is never lonely. Yesterday morning was crisp, a bit chillier than I expected. The rule of thumb is to dress for the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air. The water in the lake is always very cold, but in the summer I don’t suit up with a dry suit. I wear clothes made for the water and keep my boat near the shore so that self-rescue is as simple as walking out of the shallows onto the shore.Yesterday, however, I wished I hadn’t left my stocking cap in the car. My ears were a bit cold. Even that discomfort is minor and is just enough to remind me that I am alive and that the world is a fascinating place. Not long after I got off the lake I was sweating and hot as I mowed the lawn.
Spiritually it is renewing to be reminded that I find God in the ordinary. I don’t have to make a pilgrimage to a distant shrine or engage in a complicated prayer and study discipline. Those are meaningful activities, but God is everywhere and so every location is a good place to look for God’s presence and guidance. As I write, I am aware of how often I write about paddling. It probably seems repetitious for those who read my journal each day. But not all repetition is bad. Finding God in the ordinary is a blessing.
My wish for my readers is that each will find an activity that brings them closer to God.