November 25, 2020
I first learned to swim when I was about 6 years old, and was fortunate to grow up in a town where swimming lessons were a regular part of PE in grade school. Although I never swam competitively, I wound up back in the pool in a college aerobics class. After breaking my foot in a dance class, swimming became a way to regain muscle strength. I finally got serious about swimming in my early 30’s and it has become part of my fitness routine for all these decades since.
There are a lot of similarities between prayer and swimming
The first thing you learn when you begin to swim is how to float. How to lay in the water and let it hold your weight. And that has become a metaphor for my prayer life.
I’ve always appreciated the zen-like quality of swimming. My arms and legs work in rhythm. I hear the sound of my breath when I turn my head to the side to inhale, and when I blow bubbles to exhale. I feel the water moving across my skin. I focus my eyes on the black stripe on the bottom of the pool.
Recently I’ve discovered that swimming can be its own kind of centering prayer. I find that it is easier to stay in the present moment when I am in the pool. I find my thoughts floating away. I return to my breath. For half an hour I can let the water hold me. There’s no race. There’s no competition. There’s just moving through the water, weightless.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended all the familiar routines of our lives. All the plans we thought we had made now have to be reconsidered. We thought we knew how to worship, how to have family gatherings, how to send our kids to school, how to meet a friend for coffee. Everyone I talk to feels the anxiety of having to re-invent the wheel. We wonder when we will be able to get back to the “ordinary.”
Prayer can be as simple as floating
My swimming practice is teaching me about my prayer practice. It’s not about racing to the end of the lane, but about allowing myself to be buoyed up by God’s love. It’s not about proving that I am faster or stronger, but about allowing that divine love to surround me and hold me as I float. It’s not about figuring out every answer, but about allowing the anxiety and the fear to roll off my back like water droplets.
You may or may not be a swimmer, but in the gift of your baptism, you are afloat in the water of God’s very being. You are safe, and loved, and precious. God surrounds you like the serene water of a calm pool. There’s no competition. There’s no race. There’s just divine love holding you as you move through the water, weightless.
The Rev. Ann Sundberg, Certified Spiritual Director