No More Dry Land

The Swan

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is a letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each minute more fully grown,
more like a king, composed, farther and farther on.

~Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Robert Bly)

You are like Rilke’s Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground; the swan doesn’t cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. He does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence. You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown…. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of [your] work.

    ~David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

Rilke’s The Swan is one of my favorites! I find myself returning to sit with it every couple of months or so. It serves as a good plumb line.

The contrasting image of the swan walking (perhaps more appropriately waddling) on dry land versus moving elegantly, effortlessly through the water serves as a powerful a reminder for me to sort through all of the various activities that I am involved in. Am I doing those things that I was created to be about doing? Or am I involved in tasks, that while worthwhile, work against my strengths and might, perhaps, be better done by someone whose gifts and talents are better aligned to these tasks.

Of course, the hard part, once the evaluation is complete, as both Rilke and David Whyte point out, is the letting go of the familiar dry land and moving into water. Dying to that image that I am all-powerful and able to leap tall buildings, an image that propels me to push harder and farther, is not an easy step to take. But as I am encouraged by the image of the Swan to make the evaluation in the first place, I am also encouraged by the image of the Swan to step into the water and leave the dry land behind!

Oh Lord, pour your light into my life. Give me the courage to live in this light, seeking to open myself to using my gifts and abilities in your service and ever fighting the tendency of ‘trying to be all things to all people’. Enable me to envision my life as you see it – strengthening me to step off the dry land and into the waters that you have created for me. Amen.