“Tacking” Toward the Truth

I’m not a sailor, but when I lived in Hong Kong some years ago, I did go sailing often enough with friends who had a boat to learn what tacking is. Tacking refers to a series of zig zag movements that allow forward progress of the boat along the water where one would not be able to sail directly into the wind.

I hadn’t thought of the sailing manuever for a long time until I saw the title of an article in a recent issue of Commonweal about John Henry Newman: Tacking toward the Truth. Leaving aside Newman and the article, I decided I loved the phase “tacking toward the truth.” It seems to me that at some level, that is exactly what we do as we grow in our faith.

Our faith journeys can rarely be descibed as straight forward motion. (Certainly mine hasn’t been; I joke sometimes that I’m the poster child for the saying that God writes staight with crooken lines.) Instead, pushed back by our own limitations, by distractions and by any number of other things, we zig and zag on our way, with the help of our friends (it is a lot easier to tack a sailboat with a crew) and our God.

Sometimes it is hard for us to even see the progress we have made. On a sailboat, one can tell one has made some forward motion by seeing where the boat is in relation to some fixed point on the shore. I am reminded that a former spirtiual director once likened a prayer journal to precisely that – a fixed point on the shore. When I look back at my journals from two or three years ago I can see that, despite the zigs and the zags- or, more accurately, because of them, there has been some forward motion, some growing into the truth. It is the process of our lifetime and we will continue to zig and zag toward the Truth until our death.