I learned to swim late on in life. I was not a water baby, or even a water preschooler, or water infant– more like a water adolescent. The venue was the swimming pool at secondary school. Arm bands and polystyrene swimming floats got me from one end of the pool to another. It wasn’t a big pool, but when a person can’t swim, the size of the pool is pretty much irrelevant. I am not sure that it was a deep pool either but I am sure there is a statistic out there that one can drown in six inches of water.
I watched an amazing swimming feat the other day on a wild life documentary. The programme in general wasn’t so much about wild life but wild habitats and how the human population who lived there managed to survive. They lived in the arctic circle. Halloween trick and treat night was made that much scarier by a polar bear roaming the streets!
One family were reindeer herders. For part of the year the reindeer migrate to new pasture. To get to the new pasture there is a two and a half kilometre swim for the herd to complete. There were three thousand of them stretched out in a line and the camera under the water showed a picture of many hooves pumping away, the reindeer version of the doggy paddle.
The herd were being followed by the herders in a dinghy. They were there to make sure that the herd made it to the other side.
For the older members of the herd, they had done it all before. They were big enough and strong enough to deal with the current. For the youngsters of the herd this was the first time – perhaps not the first time they had been in the water swimming, but certainly the first time they were swimming such a long distance. It was the younger reindeer that the herders were watching. Somewhere, out in the middle of the water, where the land is far off no matter which direction you are swimming in, the young animals begin to panic. Although they are swimming next to mum or dad, and close enough to rest a neck on another animal’s back, they suddenly get frightened. Maybe it’s that moment when they realise they can’t touch the bottom! They turn around and start to swim back the way.
The herders are there to turn the turners back to forward. They lean out to the boat, grab the head of the reindeer swimming the wrong way and force them to turn around and continue swimming in the right direction.
“Even if one reindeer turns around to swim back the other way…the whole herd will turn around and join them.” The commentator commentated.
This is a great illustration of solidarity! In this case, it’s not good solidarity. The herd even if they made it back to the shore unharmed would have to do it again some other day. Suitable days are not everyday and I suppose you have to do something to build up their fitness and energy levels for a second attempt. It is better to turn the turners.
The ones who turn are the young reindeer. They lack the stamina and strength of the older animals. They lack experience and the task becomes too big.
This idea of the whole herd turning because of the actions of one animal is just amazing. If one animal in a herd of three thousand turns, they all turn.
It’s nice to know, in some ways, that the one who turns isn’t cast adrift to allow the rest of the herd to go on its way. They swim together…in one direction, or they don’t swim at all.
Where they were headed to was new pasture – essential for their survival. It’s not something they can afford to swim away from – but they will if one of them swims in the opposite direction.
There is so much challenge in living a vibrant faith life. At times it feels like a two and a half kilometre reindeer swim. There is always a challenge just out of reach to stretch towards. The Christian faith was never meant to be limited to the four walls of a church building, or the lyrics and melody of a hymn. It is daily.
There are things of God, not always reasonable things, or safe things, or comfortable things, or easy things - and sometimes quite scary things. Much better, it seems to head for the familiar and the known – so we turn around. Maybe the rest of the congregation don’t follow – maybe some do – but we are no longer going in the direction that is essential for our faith the grow and mature. The rest may go on without us – indeed, some of us may wonder of anyone would notice our absence at all! What I am sure of is that their faith cannot grow and mature the way God intended because our input into their lives is not present.
Better not to turn. Better to rest our heads on someone else’s shoulder for a while. Better to remind ourselves that God provides all that we need for life and godliness through his great and precious promises. Better not to fight God when he grabs us by the heart, and not just the head, and turns us around.