Our Story within the Story

In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard tells about life experiences on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest.  She related the story of her conversation with a painter friend; asked how his work was going, Paul Glenn told another story.  He reminisced about Ferrar Burn, a man long dead, who had rowed his eight-foot skiff out one evening into the strait to salvage a stray Alaskan cedar log–the locals watched for these logs so prized as building material.  With a towline on the log, Burn rowed toward his beach, but the swift outbound tide swept his skiff and the log miles down the channel from evening until the tide reversed in the early morning.  During the night hours, in the northern twilight, Burn kept rowing until the swift, inbound tide carried him and the log home, to his own beach.  Glenn’s response merits reflection:

‘You asked how my work is going,’ he said.  ‘That’s how it’s going.  The current’s got me.  Feels like I’m about in the middle of the channel now.  I just keep at it.  I just keep hoping the tide will turn and bring me in.’  (p 88)

Two points here.  One, that your life’s work can feel that way.  You’re either rowing against the tide, or with it, but it’s not your call.  Two, that life is like a story within a story.  No surprise there, but your — my —  faith story needs to be understood rightly:  I tend to think God’s sovereign place and work is a story within my own, but that’s reversed from the greater truth.  My story can only be, at last, a story within God’s story.  You and I need to know our places and roles.  Like Burn in his skiff, our role is to keep rowing, to keep relying on the rule of the tide.

Quotation from Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, Harper Perennial, 1989.


Copyright 2012 by Jerry Summers.