They again attempt to maneuver the jungle-like quagmire, and soon realize the only movement will come if Charlie again gets out and pulls the boat. Bravely he does so, inching along in the wet jungle, until he, and Rosie, are utterly spent. Tormented by biting insects, sickened with malaria, as stuck now as they were many days ago, Charlie, lying under a flimsy blanket, shivering with fever, turns to Rosie, “You want to know the truth, don’t you old girl?” he asks. “We’re done for.” “I know it,” she replies, and tells him to get some rest. She prays for God to forgive their sins, to be merciful and bring them into the heavenly kingdom, and then she, too, slips into feverish sleep.
It is at this point, that the camera angle slowly ascends, above what pens them in, above where Charlie and Rosie could see, to reveal that their launch is, in fact, very close to open water. As they sleep, the boat quietly slips out of the delta, and into the lake, free and moving once more. There is a new beginning, after all, and their journey in the African Queen continues.
How often have we been so stuck in our circumstances, no matter what we do, it hasn’t seemed to make a difference, as far as we can see, above, below and all around, we remain tightly hemmed in? I love that segment from the classic movie, The African Queen.
It shows how really stuck people can be. Even with ingenuity, persistence, dedication. Even with resolve, hard work, intelligence applied to the problem. We can think of times in our lives when all of that has been brought to bear. Yet we look around and determine we are still stuck.
But perhaps the most powerful aspect of this scene, is the aerial view of their situation. When we saw that, it changed everything about what we thought was possible. Now, it wasn’t that Rosie and Charlie couldn’t see. It wasn’t even that they were inaccurate in their assessment of what they saw. It was that from where they were positioned, their purview, they did not realize there was much more to see. Their picture was incomplete. Actually, incomplete by a longshot, and what they couldn’t see, turned out to be significant enough to change their story.
In the same way as that famous scene from the movie, what we can see at any given time is not the whole picture. Even a 360 degree view from here in this world is far different than the multidimensional view God has. We get caught up in the circumstance, the problem, and it’s easy to lose perspective.
So much in life is temporary. You’ve heard that saying, “this too shall pass”? That is another way of saying, “remind yourself that there is more”. Our lives, like a turning kaleidoscope, are constantly shifting, rearranging, maybe fast, maybe slow, maybe real slow.
I wonder what Nelson Mandela, South African activist, politician and philanthropist, thought, sitting in solitary confinement for decades. Looking up, down and all around. Deprived of human love with family and friends, robbed of dreams that could not be realized, goals that could not be achieved, robbed of freedom. With the passing days, weeks, months, years, wouldn’t any reasonable person have to fight hard to not think this was the end – the end of meaning, of any kind of real life? Yet, staying positive and having vision through his deep convictions were two aspects he cultivated even in prison, which God used to see him through. You see, the spirit does not have to be fettered to the circumstances of this world. And over much time, his conviction that he would again walk on green grass and be a free man, revealed itself.
After 27 years, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. He went on to become South Africa’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling a legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Later as an elder statesman, he fought AIDS and poverty through the foundation he established. Widely regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice, then and after his passing, he received more than 250 honors —including the Nobel Peace Prize.
His actions brought the hope of healing and new possibilities to a nation torn apart. Who would have thought it would unfold like that! Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, by looking at his circumstances for 27 years? Turned out, imprisonment, the problem and the struggle, all of that was preparation and leverage into something big, amazing and important. It seems unlikely that, even holding on to a larger vision, Nelson Mandela, 15 years into imprisonment, saw that the kaleidoscope of life would turn as it did.
Maybe there is a struggle in your life that never ends. Helen Keller knew about that kind of circumstance. Due to a severe fever when she was19 months old, Helen was left deaf and blind, her ability to communicate severely compromised. She was effectively a prisoner in her body and in her world. But a teacher came into her life, Anne Sullivan. Because of all the struggles in her life, and who God made her to be, Anne Sullivan found a way to break through into Helen’s world, teaching her the alphabet. Once Helen could communicate, vistas of new beginnings opened before her.
Helen Keller went on to graduate with honors from Radcliffe. Although she was to remain deaf and blind her entire life on this earth, she wrote several books, including a book, interestingly enough, called “Out of the Dark.” She also became an activist and lecturer, and founded the American Foundation for the Blind, sharing wisdom and hope, inspiring all who were in some kind of prison in their lives.
God sees and uses the “prisons of our lives” as possibilities. Inside these prisons are invitations – to see a new way, to see things that we couldn’t see before, to have hope and trust in the midst of what we see and what we cannot see. Because life is a turning kaleidoscope. And what we can’t see at any given moment, may be much more significant and powerful than what we can see.
Yes, it is very easy to get stuck in what we have perhaps seen and experienced for so long, thinking it cannot, will not change. Every one of us has experienced being in some kind of a prison. Maybe we are a prisoner of a chronic physical or mental health related condition. Maybe we have not found a way to get out of our own way. Maybe we have worked for years at having a good relationship with someone, and it’s still lousy. Maybe we can’t seem to get a handle on our faith. These are some of many examples that can keep us, and our vision, stuck and hemmed in.
Whatever your prison is, I want to encourage you today and let you know, there is hope. God is not done. If it isn’t good yet, God is not done. I’ve heard it said that setbacks are setups for a comeback. The thing to remember is that hope is not dashed no matter how long you’ve been hemmed in. God knows that which is unseen. And that which is unseen can be a game changer for you, and for me.
Though we, in this life, see through a glass dimly, darkly, sometimes, there is a little opening in that veil and we get a glimpse at the unseen, and we get to see a little more of what God sees and the way God sees it. It’s happened before, God speaking through prophets, through dreams - through visions like what John shared with us in our reading of Revelation today, a glimpse into a future that looks totally different.
Or maybe, there will be no opening in the veil. Then that’s okay, too. God asks us to trust Him, even through a valley that is all we can see. God asks us to believe that the hemming in places, the prisons of our life, are temporary no matter how it looks, and God will use them as leverage. Because the Skipper of our life is God. And God’s purview is complete.
We trust God, because the whole picture, that which we can see and that which we cannot, is operative in our lives. As we keep our eyes on God through faith, nothing can contain our spirit. And the life we have in Jesus Christ can set us free. In fact, Jesus came to set the captives free. Those captives include you and me.
As the kaleidoscope turns, be assured that no matter what picture is revealed at any given time, God is working to enlarge our vision and show us new and glorious things. Yes, now we see through a glass dimly. But we keep our eyes on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, who will bring us to the place where we see clearly and completely.
And on the way, just like David, who penned the psalm we read today, we can say victoriously that which was declared in ages past and remains a hope for years to come: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord, forever. Amen.