Even Keel

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  June 22, 2013

            When looking at a sailboat on the water, one may easily notice the tall masts, billowed sails, and elongated hull that all rise above the surface of the water.  As the wind hits the sails, its invisible force fills them with sufficient pressure to propel the entire boat.  A skilled skipper can then trim the sails using careful adjustments to their angle to steer the boat so that it is propelled, but not fully directed by the wind.

            When under sail, the boat actually endures a tremendous amount of force.  Winds blowing into the sail have the capacity to do more than merely propel the vessel forward.  They also have the power to blow it down, push the bow so far forward so as to cause the boat to pitch downward into the waves, or perhaps fully capsize.  While it is easy to see the effect of the winds and current on the boat, it is not always easy to see why this incredible vessel rarely succumbs to these catastrophic consequences of the wind on the sail.

            Hidden beneath the sailboat, far below the waterline and directly below the center of the boat is a keel.  This large protrusion is only seen when the boat is out of water and is not a part of the vessel the skipper consciously thinks of while commanding the rigging or steering the rudder.  Yet, quietly, confidently, and assumingly, this hidden projection jutting out from the bottom of this boat provides an unmistakably essential force without which, the boat could never sail.

            The keel provides overall stability and functions to lower the center of gravity, thus protecting the whole boat from falling over in the water.  As the force of the wind pushes against the sails above, the seemingly invisible keel offsets that force by pressing against the water in the opposite direction.  As the vessel pushes forward through the waves, the keel, much like a vertical wing, produces just enough lift to actually keep the bow of the boat on a much more level plane with gravity.

            The common phrase, “keeping an even keel” derives from this kind of horizontal stability.  When one is on an even keel, the force of wind that propel the boat, do not threaten the boat as it remains relatively steady and constant amid the changing pressures driving it.  Yet, just as keeping an even keel is vital to sailing, as the common usage of the phrase indicates in daily living, it also makes a difference in how we live out our lives.

            In life there are plenty of winds that blow.  Some of these winds, much like the prevailing forces of sin, can fill our sails and drive us to destruction.  Yet, much as the Bible describes the Holy Spirit in symbolic language that uses images of wind, the winds of the Spirit can also propel the vessels of our life forward with great power and ease.  The question becomes, will we be able to maintain an even keel in the face of these winds?  The answer lies in the fundamental physics of the keel.  Without it, the boat is doomed, even though it remains below the waterline and may never be seen.

            What is your keel on this incredible sailboat we call life?  Is it God’s word in scripture?  The doctrines of the church?  The rituals of worship?  Perhaps disciplines of prayer?  What about the act of study and intentional growth in Christ?  All these things have merit, and certainly contain a tremendous power.  Yet none of these are that invisible, stabilizing keel that keeps life on a more steady plane and prevents the forces of everyday experience from capsizing us completely.  Our keel in life is simply a solid relationship with Christ!  It is something that may not be easily seen and a force that must remain at our center, just below the surface of who we are.  Without that keel, we can never stay afloat in this vessel called life.