A Few Notes on Paddling and Faith

Reader David Moriah wrote a heartfelt comment in response to my previous post on “Is the Center No Longer Holding?” I offer it to you here as a prelude to a brief meditation of my own, because I believe, among the various important points he raised, none is more vital and literally noteworthy for our time than the implications of the “faith” that he sketches with the powerful imagery that he does.

His comment in full:

“I have reached a stage in my life and amidst the accelerating centrifugal forces at loose on the planet when I surrender to my inability to forecast where we are headed. There are times when I sense an impending darkness capturing more and more of the globe, and most disturbingly many of the supposedly enlightened corners that have been cleansed of tribal lunacy by liberal democracy and both secular and religious messages of tolerance and good will toward all. There are times when I am comforted by the long ebb and flow between tyranny and human rights and dignity, thinking perhaps “this too shall pass.” We survived Richard Nixon didn’t we? And then there are times when I can, for the first time in . . . how many decades has it been? . . . see the world explode into nuclear war or some unimaginable ecological catastrophe as the fools who could have prevented such happenings check the stock market before they burn or drown with the rest of us. Ah, such a cheery spring message. I used to be a white water canoeist and I remember the advice was always to keep on paddling, furiously if necessary, as the ferocious power of the white water washes over your boat. You may indeed drown in the current, but you will at least go down nobly giving your best effort till the end. In today’s Trumpian dystopia I choose to go down paddling—writing letters, making phone calls, organizing, marching. And ultimately, I do believe the triumphant message sung countless times by our brothers and sisters of the civil rights movement—’We Shall Overcome!'”



To “keep on paddling, furiously if necessary”—this is the key, yes? Despite the very live possibility, anytime you are in whitewater, that you may drown anyway, your efforts coming to naught.

Faith is not “believing” in any outcome.

It is not “If I do such and such, thus and so will happen.”

It is not a matter of saying the right words, reading the right book, joining the right group, snagging the perfect job or spouse or flash of sky on a glorious spring day.

It does not require you to adopt the right practice, find the right teacher, swallow the prevailing dogma, or any dogma at all.

When you are in whitewater—and let’s face it, all of us are in whitewater, all the time—nothing you believe or have done in the past may save you.

You may have trained and read and bowed and fasted and marched and loved and believed—and you may still die, your boat pummeled, swamped, upturned by forces beyond your control.

Puny you, in the end.

What does whitewater know or care about your continued existence? About as much as a nuclear bomb does.


While you are in that current, with the threat of death curling its cold unfeeling fingers under your boat, you have a choice to make, and it is a choice about faith in the most fundamental sense.

Not that you will save yourself.

But that paddling is the only thing that might.

Paddling is, in this moment, all you have.

It is all there is to believe and live in, right now, here.


Paddling is striving, struggling, working, moving. (It is also terrifying and exhilarating, a peculiar joy quiet under the terror.)

It requires all that you have, all that you are, in the total, committed presence of the here and now.

It is, in a word: prayer.

I paddle because I am, because I am here, in this current, and I have some control I can exert, unless and until I can’t.

And until I can’t, paddling is what I do.

It is all I ever do, all I ever am.

Paddling sunders the wall between the “I” and the “do,” making them indissoluble in this current.

Paddling is faith in action, and truth to tell, faith without action is no faith at all.

Not faith that something in particular will happen.

Faith is the happening itself as I take action, because my own action, diminished as it might ultimately become by forces beyond me, is all I am left with, all I have, all I am.

Right up until my last breath.

Until then, I paddle on.


This note of hope and inspiration brought to you by…Charles Bukowski???



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Deep appreciation to the photographers!

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: larry@rosefoto.com   

Hand paddling photo near top of page by Wolfgang Tönschmidt, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at https://www.flickr.com/photos/wolftone/

Whitewater kayaker photo from stock agency by Darren Baker.

10 comments to A Few Notes on Paddling and Faith

  • Jay Helman  says:

    The day before Easter we stopped in to visit a friend from South Korea and introduce her to family visiting from Michigan. During the course of conversation she was asked her feelings about our President and recent events involving North Korea. Tears welled up in her eyes as she explained that her family is in Seoul and the terror that they are experiencing given the character of the leaders from the U.S. and North Korea. Honoring her anguish, my sister-in-law suggested we join hands in a circle and pray together; and so we did. In that moment of raw emotion I now realize that my sister-in-law had very strong paddling instincts.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Amen to that, Jay! Some people seem to emerge from the womb with a paddle serving as kind of third & fourth arms, true naturals…

  • kirkthill  says:

    Mostly I think facebook a conglomeration, and yet sometimes I read things that hit me over the head like a kung fu master with a 2 x 4. Or maybe a paddle! I hope people take the little time to read this, instead of opting for the video of the cat falling off the bookcase.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I hear ya, Kirk. Facebook is a great way to keep abreast of friends & family and the huge range of articles from sources one can’t possibly check in with regularly. And then we look up from our cave and wonder where the last several hours of our lives went…Happy to hear you got something from your recent visit!

  • Rev. Robert Gutleben  says:

    If it weren’t for the instinct to paddle, I would probably be dead by now. But it’s taken me a lifetime to accept paddling as a crucible in which I learn, become more conscious, and find faith. I still remember laying in a hospital bed forty-five years ago, waiting for cancer surgery in the morning. The diagnosis gave me a 50% chance of living for a year. I wasn’t very religious at the time, but from my medical fox-hole I fervently made a bargain with God. It went like this; ” [God] if you will allow me to survive my cancer I promise to devote my life to these three things: Life, Love, and the pursuit of Relationships.” Those words seemed to have come from some deep place in my soul, someplace I had rarely visited before. But I have remained true to my commitment ever since that night in the Livermore Valley Hospital. Does God make such deals as the one I made? These days I would tend to doubt that some benevolent Being, like the one I imagined back then, would make such quid pro quo bargains. But that didn’t mean that a bargain wasn’t made. This was a sacred agreement I made in the heavenly realm of my inner-world, and I have been paddling all my life to keep up my end of it. By the way, I’ll be seventy-two in June.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Powerful tale, Robert, thank you very much. I am connecting your words to Jay’s up above, with the observation of how much more powerful and “real” it is when prayer stands alone as an expression of human communion and commitment rather than mere petition for some response from a supreme being. I remember reading years ago, source forgotten now, a writer asking rhetorically whether prayer is really nothing more than human beings talking to their own best selves, but that doesn’t strike me as a bad or useless idea at all, at anytime, long as the language works for the one praying.

      A source of infinite love, infinite compassion, infinite joy—that’s a powerful symbol around which to order one’s life. If focusing on it a few times a day with words or mere silence and attaching a three-letter word to it helps one radiate more of all those things, more power to the prayer and the one praying, it seems to me. Meanwhile, many bows to that “sacred agreement” you made in “the heavenly realm of (your) inner world,” and to your upcoming 72-ness. No small matter, you surviving physically and thriving spiritually over such a span. Onwards!

  • Rev. Robert Gutleben  says:

    Have you read John Caputo’s book, The Folly of God? He rejects traditional Christian theology of a God who, from time to time, intervenes in human history with his ultimate power over every aspect of the creation. Caputo looks to the cross as the cornerstone of a God that is way down rather than high up. For Caputo the Unconditional is the experience of genuine humble love for self, others, and the creation. The Unconditional does not rule the universe with controlling power, rather the Unconditional waits for our discovery of the lowly power of loving, even when “good sense” is to trust in an omniscient and omnipotent God to intervene in history to give His faithful servants the advantage over adversity. While Caputo’s insights are, in my view, profound and consistent with our real experience of life, I still need to reread his work before I dare say too much about his thesis of the Unconditional. If you get a chance to read his work I think you might find that his theology is not far from your own. And, thanks for your comments about my reply to your blog.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Thank you for two terrific posts, Robert. Eight years ago this past January my life was hanging in the balance from a severe ischemic stroke. My sacred, and secret, pact with God was to be grateful for life and humble for all that I have been given. That pact remained in the forefront of my mind for quite some time. I gradually worked through the deficiencies (cognitive, emotional, and physical) of my brain injury and paddled my way back to work to round out my career. During that time (I am now retired) the pact slipped into the background as pressing daily matters returned to the front of the line. Now with time to read, write, and reflect I am working to bring the pact back to its necessary place in my daily life of gratitude. Thank you so much for the reminder.

    And thank you for the book recommendation. I look forward to Caputo’s book. And Andrew, bless you for making these exchanges and relationships possible. We will continue to paddle, and we will successfully navigate these troublesome currents we now face.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Profound, Jay. That living in conscious gratitude, similar to a commitment to the Golden Rule, is pretty sound theology, I think—almost a system unto itself, into which one weaves community, however and wherever one can construct it. Thanks for your rich contribution to this discussion. (A note of gratitude there, too…)

    • Rev. Robert Gutleben  says:

      Jay, suffering illness can be a profound experience of soul searching. I can relate to the way your suffering left a message, maybe a demand, to return to those deep days of struggling while recovering from a stroke. Like you, when I had to retire from my day to day work, a call to return to my memories of those difficult days compelled to return to them for, what was for me, a demand to sift through them again for the wisdom they offered. I don’t recommend pain as a path to greater consciousness, but my struggle with it certainly resulted in new insights that more than compensated for what I suffered. May you too find rich rewards in your own furious paddling.

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