Wooden Ships on the Water

wooden ships ruskin quote

wooden ships my boat1            THE FAIR SHEER LINE OF A HALF-FINISHED SAILBOAT has gracefully waited in my shop, now for several years. The sheer is that curve running from bow to stern just where the deck meets the side of the hull. A “fair” curve is one that runs true, with no bumps or hollows, with the line of the curve itself appealing to the eye in a way that can’t be quantified or put into a formula. Only by practice, experience, and encounter does one properly judge a fair curve; I am still learning this myself.

Like every artifice and manufacture of man, a wooden boat or shiwooden ships clipperp is a dream made tangible. The mind imagines what may be, and the hands work the tools and materials to match the imagination. I have often run my hand along the deck of my half-finished boat, following the sheer, and sometimes caressed the rounded edges of the bow stem; not so much to claim it as my boat or even to feel pride in my workmanship. It’s because I am always amazed at how something that was once only an idea now has concrete substance. Well, at least partially so. Indeed, I feel a responsibility to the boat itself, to bring it completely from imagination into solid reality; to not leave it in the realm of unfinished dreams.

wooden ships my boat2But there is more to it than that, of course. The boat has become for me a sort of benign Moby-Dick upon which I have piled, not my rage and hate, but my longing for joy, for meaning, even for transcendence. I know no work of my own hands, not even something so wonderful as a wooden boat, can actually grant me these things. So the boat has become a poem, even a prayer, in wood and glue and metal and varnish. I expect to finish the boat someday soon, and sail it on some quiet bay somewhere.wooden ships csn

         I AM NOT MUCH OF A SAILOR, but I hope to be someday.  After a few lessons on sailing dinghies, and a couple of jaunts on larger boats, I believe I understand why more than two centuries after steam eclipsed the age of sail men will still go out on the deep moved only by the wind. A sailboat slips almost noiselessly through the waves, the only sounds the rush and gurgle of water against the hull, the sigh of the wind, the luffing and rippling of sails. In a strong breeze the shrouds sing. Even in a light breeze there is a feeling of being carried and moved by an embracing power. You do not harness or capture the wind. You watch the clouds, the sails, and the water’s surface and try to gauge just how you will shift the tiller to slip inside the stream of moving sky, and then feel as much pulled as pushed toward the line where sky and water meet.

How odd that being transported by a force over which you have no control can feel so exhilaratingly free. wooden ships horizonNo boat can sail directly into the wind. We tack ourselves onto the edges of this power and harmonize our direction and desire with the will of the wind, or we do not move at all. But when you do move within the streaming current of the air you feel a release and a letting go and it’s as though the particles of your senses were now all aligned with True North and exactly where you go becomes almost superfluous; that you are going and going beyond the horizon toward something new and wonderful is more than enough.


About Michael W Nicholson

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, father, and grandfather, a brother and a friend. My professional career has been in education. I taught Industrial Arts in Middle School for six years, four years as an adjunct professor in theology and philosophy, and fifteen years teaching classes in Old Testament, Apologetics, and Worldviews in a Christian High School. Like everyone else who breathes in American culture, I am infected with chronic postmodernity, but I am aware of this and regularly administer the treatment: Historic Christian Orthodoxy as contained in the Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. I am fascinated by almost every subject imaginable, except economics. I have a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe in a God who wants to be found; who leaves signs and suggestions, trademarks, signatures, and signposts scattered throughout every aspect of our existence. And if we are truly looking, He will find us. God is the great Story-teller, and the story he is telling is the great drama of Reality, unfolding before us and of which we are all inescapably a part. And so I am collecting fragments, in Philosophy, in Science, and in Art and holding these fragments up to the light and turning them this way and that, and trying to see and say how the Story—the metanarrative, the Christian Worldview—is involved in, and makes sense of, every aspect of our being-in-the-world (to borrow a term from Heidegger and take it where perhaps he did not intend for it to go). And by doing this I hope I am helping to light the way Home; back to the sea, the ocean, the Ocean of Infinite Love. My blog covers a wide range of topics around this central theme that the transcendent realm surrounds and permeates our existence. I put up new posts periodically. I hope you enjoy them. I hope they help.
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