I heard Jon Zens tell a story about Martin Luther once. Apparently, as a young man, Luther saw a picture in a church of a ship on the sea. In the ship was the clergy, recognized by their vestments, and in the sea were the laity. The laity were all reaching up to the clergy to save them. This picture affected Luther so much, that after seeing it, he knew he must be a clergy, for he wanted desperately to be on the ship. While this story saddens me because this clergy/laity mindset is still rampant in modern Christianity, it has birthed in me an analogy I would like to share.
There are two ships sailing on an endless sea. The first ship is enormous. It has hundreds of decks, though, only certain people are allowed on the higher decks. All the people on the lower decks are convinced that they would be happier if they could be on the higher decks, and all the people on the higher decks keep trying to build even higher decks. It is filled with entertainment and food and drink. It is filled with art and music and stories. It is filled with business and education and religion. It is also filled with holes. People spend much of their time trying to patch the holes and keep the ship from sinking, yet every time they patch one hole, another one appears. And it is filled with death. No one talks about it, but everyone knows it. And everyone fears it.
The second ship is smaller. It is plain, and there is only one deck. It looks as though the sea could overtake it at any moment, but it has never sunk. This ship is also filled with entertainment and food and drink. It is filled with art and music and stories. It is filled with sharing and wisdom and peace. Despite there only being one deck there is plenty of room for all the people aboard this ship. There is not one hole and everything is perfectly constructed. But mostly this ship is filled with life. Actually, this ship itself is alive, and it gives its life to all who live on it.
The two ships are always within sight of the other, though they are never close. You see, the first ship is going one way and the second ship another. They are not headed to the same destination.
Every human is born on the first ship, and most will die on it. They live their lives with the second ship ever on the horizon and many stories are told concerning it. Some say the second ship isn’t really there, it’s just a figment of the imagination. Others say that if we are good enough on the first ship, then we will eventually get to live on the second ship. Some say the first ship is by far the better ship and only stupid people would want be on the second ship.
Then there are those who have actually heard the second ship themselves. You see, when the wind dies down and the sun is either just rising or beginning to set, if a person will be still and quiet, they can hear the second ship. It speaks to the people, bidding them to come and share in its life. But there is only one way onto this second ship and most people who hear the ship are too scared to go. The only way to get onto the second ship is to jump off the first ship into the sea and to trust that the second ship will save you. “But it looks so far away. How could it get to me in time? I will surely die.” This is what most people think when they hear the second ship bidding them.
Some people do choose to believe, knowing that this first ship is not what they are meant for. Even though they were born on it, something deep within tells them that they were created for the other ship. So when they hear they second ship calling to them they jump into the sea. And every time, without fail, the second ship saves them. Despite how far away it looks. Despite how small and insignificant it looks. It saves them.
At first, when someone new comes onto the second ship they still try to go on living just like they did on the first ship. They are constantly on the lookout for holes, though none ever appear. The food, drink, entertainment, music, art, and stories are different than what they are used to from the first ship. Many people become very frustrated and exhausted because the strength they used on the first ship is of no use on the second. The second ship is already alive. It doesn’t need anything the people can offer it. Actually, the people were created to draw their life from the very life of the ship, but they don’t know how to do this. The first ship didn’t have any life to give them, so they had to draw life from within themselves. They don’t know how to draw life from the ship.
So those who have lived on the ship longer and have learned to draw their life from the ship show the new ones. They tell them about the ship, and then they help the new ones to practice drawing life from the ship. They spend time with the new ones and allow them to see themselves drawing life from the ship until finally, they are all drawing their life from the ship and they are all helping each other to draw their life from the ship, because, you remember, this ship only has one deck. All are loved equally by the ship and all are offered the same life without reserve.
As people leave the first ship for the second one, instead of more decks being added to the second ship to house the new people, this ship simply becomes bigger. That’s what a living ship can do. And the more the people of the ship draw from the life of the ship, the more life the ship has to offer. The life of the ship never diminishes, it only increases, and as the people live upon the second ship, the first ship grows smaller and smaller in their memories.
Everything isn’t perfect on the second ship, it is, after all, filled with people from the first ship, but the life of the ship is always more than capable to handle any issues when the people draw upon it. It is only when the people don’t draw from the life of the second ship, but instead try to do things like they were done on the first ship that things get messed up. But again, the life of the second ship is still able to overcome all things.
As the people live on the second ship, and draw from its life, they begin to live in wonderful harmony with each other and to actually love one another. They begin to find joy in serving each other and they long for more and more people from the first ship to make the leap of faith to come aboard the second ship. But they also know that it is only by the life of the second ship, and its calling to those on the first ship, that any will come. Those on the second ship know that their own voices will never carry all the way to the first ship, so they simply join in with the second ship as it calls out across the sea, and they watch in amazement and wondrous joy as they see those who are are also willing to brave the sea for life aboard the second ship. And they know, without a doubt, that those jumping off the first ship will be saved just as they were.