Bad sea-boats we | From an Old Soul

by Elouise

Oops! Maybe that flame-out rescue from his nightmare of dire darkness, the one George MacDonald asked for in the last sonnet, was a bit hasty. Not because it wasn’t worthy of God, but….Take a look at this.

July 4

Master, thou workest with such common things—
Low souls, weak hearts, I mean—and hast to use,
Therefore, such common means and rescuings,
That hard we find it, as we sit and muse,
To think thou workest in us verily:
Bad sea-boats we, and manned with wretched crews—
That doubt the captain, watch the storm-spray flee.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Augsburg Fortress Press, 1974

I love the ambiguity of MacDonald’s language.

  • “common things” – ordinary? / vulgar and uncouth?
  • “Low souls” – small or short compared with others? / cheap, bargain or cut-rate when compared with others who are expensive, premium, top-rate?
  • “weak hearts” – unhealthy? / scared silly, chicken-hearted?

Maybe some combination of all the above. The point, however, is clear. The Master doesn’t have the best material to work with. In fact, it’s pretty run-of-mill stuff. Human and all that.

So it shouldn’t surprise us when the Master has to use un-fancy methods. This could mean that MacDonald’s grand, God-appropriate rescue, as requested in the last sonnet (the flame-out of dragon breath from the Live Coal, you’ll recall) was a bit off the mark?

The stuff the Master must work with is lowly. So lowly that it’s hard to believe the Master would stoop to bother with us, working with us—not against us. Not surprisingly, we find this way of working with us terrifying.

Why terrifying? It seems we’re not very good at keeping our wits about us. Especially when the seas get way out of control. Yes, we’re sea-boats, created to survive in the open seas. But we’re not high quality, and we seem to be inhabited by motley crews (would that also be us?) who don’t know what they’re doing.

Just listen to them! Shouting at the captain, doubting the captain’s wisdom and experience, even though they already see the storm moving off into the distance! How’s that for faith, hope and gratitude?

Such common things we are. As are sea storms. And yet the Master chooses to work for and with us, not against us. Even when we resist, groan, or disrespect the captain’s wisdom and experience.

In our heart of hearts we still wish for the Grand Gesture. The Spectacular Rescue at Sea. The Heroic Attempt. It would speak well of our great value, would it not?

Instead, the Master works for us night and day in a perfectly ordinary way, using the material at hand (that would be us). It is, in fact, a grand spectacle. But only when we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and the will to cooperate with these “common means and rescuings.”

Not just once, I’m guessing, but many times over.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 July 2015