Analysis, Memories, Reflection

Anchors Away?

Is that the church of ‘Popeye The Sailor Man’?

…asked “SKIP”, a musician friend from the DC-metro area

“It is, now.

I replied, winking

Spiritual trajectories can take too long to explain. Now, I doubt most Christians would count me in their ranks and I would rather not bear that label. I find it easier to contemplate Jesus without the culture that has grown around Christianity in the West. I prefer to weigh his words. He never asked to be the center of a personality cult; quite the opposite, at several points.

Nominally, I was a missionary and the anchor necklace was the mark of my commissioning. I salvaged the symbol from the sinking bilge of that denomination. Many of my generation never ‘shipped’ themselves with a church or else bailed-out sooner. Really, I joined a struggle for civil rights in Palestine and continued working for social justice in Washington until my commission was complete in August 2014. As my mission ended and graduate school began, I realized I was more attached to a prophetic ‘fight’ than that faith’s features. For me, a church was an institution with which to wrestle in order to compensate for feeling insignificant in US governance — for lack of democracy. Doctrines were my chew-toys and liturgies merely diversions. I felt a pull to ‘The Work of Expectant Listening’; among East-coast Quakers I could contemplate Truth and find community in one space. If I continue to wear the anchor, then I have separated it from its original meanings and started crafting new significance.

I also have an anchor tattoo, replacing the commissioning-necklace that I lost swimming in a waterfall on a Philippine island with my colleague and friend, Clifford. When I returned to Bethlehem, Walid put an anchor on my left-pectoral and we captioned it “…to seek Justice and resist evil.” The placement was no accident: over my heart. I can’t dismiss this as a youthful mistake; I could let it be a monument to my time on both banks of the Jordan. I could wear the anchor to beach, bed, and shower only — it’s story and significance could be strictly intimate. Yet when I returned to New York, for additional training, staff gave me a new anchor to wear in Washington and it’s the one I wear today. It spent six weeks of 2014 in a box, at most, but by the first day of graduate-school it was hanging around my neck, again.

I stopped wearing it when I returned to Michigan from Maryland, placing it on a ‘reef’ of polished stones. My efforts to settle in the Washington area faltered and the point of contemplating my path anew appeared. I didn’t want to continue displaying the anchor without understanding what it means to me, now. The shiny-brass anchor provides a handsome contrast to the sweaters I like and creates opportunities to talk about my travels. Judging by my still-life photos of it, the anchor necklace appeals to my aesthetic. Its hooked ends are perfect for pushing hard-to-access buttons on my phone. Tempting as it was to take the lightest tack possible (“…just so I can punch buttons on my phone, nbd…”), I valued the opportunity to seek new meaning. Re-interpreting encouraged me to relax but not relent.

This stolen symbol was ripe for contrived meanings! Yet, brainstorming never went far and no research materialized. I wanted an authentic, revelatory insight. The idea of a ship tethered to an anchor in its harbor was a refrain: an implicit circle from which the floating ship cannot be pushed, a grip upon the ocean- or lake-bed below, a point of stability. None of those soundings echoed well, for me. These ideas of an anchor were not only too facile but at odds with a restlessness I am less eager to quell, more desirous to heed.

My phone started doing something I didn’t like; I was near the little end-table that thinks it is an alter, so I lifted the necklace off its reef in order to push a button—

Insight came as I watched the anchor rising on the end of its chain. It was hoisted. When the anchor is around my neck, it’s on-deck. Lifted, the anchor is NOT the symbol of a stationary mindset. The anchor is a voyage. Those that commissioned me intended it to be a voyage, though they could not know the course my life embarked upon that day. ‘The voyage’ played a great part in the impetus to accept an assignment abroad: the prospect of leaving behind my abortive efforts in Michigan, my failure to make a life here in the first few years after college, and embrace approaching horizons.

It could be a sense of purpose. It could be the transitions that come in the wake of an evolving purpose. I believe my purpose is Insight, ultimately. Purpose is revered. Purpose is mocked. Insight is revered. Insight is mocked.

Perhaps it would be less deceptive to say that the anchor around my neck signifies I am sailing: a Sailor-Man. That explains why I suddenly started wearing it again as graduate school began. Whenever I begin again, I want to recapture the sense of adventure that allowed me to survive and grow because of my mission. The risks created the courage that I needed — risks often proceed courage but too often we treat courage as a prerequisite rather than an aim. When I’m shattered by failed attempts to create a life and foundation, the voyage bonds my pieces together again … with GOLD. Salvation.

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