Tarantella at Sea, Pt 1 — Lent Reflections

capsize-184167_640The older woman sitting to my right was a leader in our church; her manner was pleasant and light-hearted, as usual.

“God gave me a picture as I prayed for you this morning,” she said. “You were like a small boat with its sails tangled.”

Once again I was struck by the wondrous realization that our Heavenly Father knows our heart language like no other.

I had been determined to not let my Lenten reflections drag me down the road of morbid introspection this year. So when nebulous fears and old emotional artifacts started surfacing, from what felt like my 40-year desert wanderings instead of 40-day journey to fresh empowering, I pursued a prayer counseling session with Pat.

The Lord had been speaking to me through nautical imagery since Christmas, so the recognition of His personal word to me through this praying saint, was immediate. I knew I had been somewhat in drift mode, needing to stop and ‘drop anchor’; to take a sounding; to find my bearings; to re-orient my soul …ok. I was letting myself get carried along, mildly discouraged that things were not going quite as I wished and time’s relentless drag, that I strained to row against, felt like it was over-taking me like a monsoon deluge.

My orienting Scripture, Hebrews 6:19-20, so inspiring at the onset of the New Year, now felt stale and irrelevant, “What was the hope anchoring my soul? – the certainty of God’s promise to the heirs of faith in the God of Abraham? What is Jesus my High Priest doing on my behalf in heaven’s inner sanctuary, behind that veil, that would bring me to my desired haven, my expected end?

Fears had been leaving me unnecessarily becalmed, caught in the doldrums, anxiously looking around at circumstances real and imagined. Thrown off-course and distracted from the things I knew God wanted me to do I languished adrift and, at times, wore myself out trying to make it to some port in the energy of the flesh, now rowing hard against God’s timing, then second-guessing my every decision as life’s pending storms loomed. ‘Tangled sails?’ The imagery could not have been more accurate in capturing my heart’s condition.

As I later pondered the way I had been plying my life’s course, the phrase “…chancing, glancing, backing and advancing” hovered on the fringes of my mind till I finally recognized them as a line from the Hillaire Belloc poem, ‘Tarantella’. The association took me further down memory lane as I relived my student-teacher days in Jamaica.

la-tarantella-napoletana-del-700I smiled, remembering younger, idealistic me, goatskin tambourine in hand, and my eager, reggae-steeped, students, ready to demonstrate their idea of the Italian Folk dance which the poet had so artfully portrayed in a Spanish setting — the slapping, clapping, rattling, side-to-side head-whipping, flashing glances here and there, twirling and eventual fall to the ground.

They were restrained only by the fact that I had not given them permission to leave their seats. I remember being somewhat torn — not wishing to lose classroom control but wanting to free their imaginations to explore and enjoy the magic of Poetry. But it wasn’t long before I realized that my students had not necessarily needed a lesson in rhythm, but one in the language, methods and purpose of the Poet. My job as Literature teacher was to help launch them on the journey and provide the navigation tools that would ensure not just safe arrival at the next harbor or port, but also the confidence and patience needed for fearless exploration and enjoyment of the journey.

Awaking from my reverie I realized I had stumbled onto a spiritual bridge, as I began to wonder how like my tarantella-mimicking students I was, as the Divine Paraclete has sought to launch me on another leg of my life adventure with Him. Thinking I know the way, I surge out ahead, “chancing” rather than charting my trip by the Book & the Divine North Star; then, when off-course, “glancing” furtively about at life’s circumstances, rather than focusing trustfully on the Father’s Face and obediently heeding the Voice of the only One who rules the waves.

The doubts and fears which ensue find me “backing and advancing” just as James tells us will be our state if we choose doubt as a shipmate — ‘double-minded…driven and tossed about by the wind’ we risk shipwreck or at least tangled sails. In that condition,, says James, we can receive nothing from the Lord, being ‘unstable in all our ways’. Again I saw myself in my dizzily staggering students, after their tarantella imitation, and the Holy Spirit in the role of roping me back into order, as I had to do for my girls, that they could come away equipped to appreciate Poetry for themselves long after the student teacher had left.

Recalling the Apostle Peter’s own maritime debacle when, sinking beneath the waves, he cried out to the Lord for help, I was comforted in realizing that I was not the only ‘chancer, glancer, backer and advancer’ on the high seas of life who has needed some rescuing. In Pat’s and her prayer counseling partner’s careful questions, discerning insight, inspired prayers and Scriptural counsel, I was reminded of my tools and lifelines and felt Strong Hands untangling my sails, steadying and anchoring my vessel, as I let go of my imperatives and let the Ruler of the waves handle that which to me is still mysterious, — work that only He can do, behind the veil.

Author: Denise S. Armstrong

I am Denise Stair Armstrong - worshipper. My purpose is to glorify God by enjoying Him in all of His Creation, among His People, His Bride, the Church; accentuating His glorious Bridge of reconciliation — the Cross of Jesus Christ — through words laced with His Truth, and cast abroad in the world He loves, and died and lives again to save. I was born and raised Jamaican, where I also received my formal education at Shortwood Teachers' College and the University of the West Indies, specializing in English Language & Literatures in English. The remainder of my education was gained by homeschooling our three wonderful children (Joseph, Charis, and Timothy) and parenting them with my husband Claude. My passion is worship expressed primarily through writing inspirational pieces that urge readers not to miss how much the Lord has "cramm'd earth with heaven", to quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning. My heart is to encourage community, in the best sense of the word, through exalting the cross of Calvary. I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, gardening, theatre and ballroom dancing (only with Claude!) and digging into the Word of God.

9 thoughts on “Tarantella at Sea, Pt 1 — Lent Reflections”

  1. Oh what a tangled Web we weave. These are the words that came to me as I read your newsletter. It reminded me of the countless times God had given me a vision or a word of something He wanted me to do and instead of waiting for his Devine instructions, I just jumped in doing it on my own strength. I am a older now, and I have learned my lesson. I patiently wait His instructions these days. Denise, thank you for sharing.


    1. Donetta,
      I really appreciate your comment. My research showed that one type of the Italian folk dance Tarantella, was actually done to cure the bite of the tarantula spider by sweating out the poison thru the frenzied dance! But the deeper truth is that we do play into the tangled web of self-deception when we imagine that we can make our own way thru life without our Lord and Captain. Thanks for sharing & living this out Sis,


  2. I really liked your imagery. It was amazing the way our introspections were so similar this week. Praying that God will soon untangle your sails ⛵️


    1. I know Lynn,I felt the same after reading your post about the doldrums on Poiema! Glad to be called out on the waters with you in writing for His glory,


  3. Denise, as a sometime sailor, I really love the nautical imagery here. And as a fellow word nerd, I love that you married Belloc’s line with your sailing image and then managed to bring walking on water into the mix, too! “Lead me deeper than my feet could ever wander / that my faith may be made stronger / in the Presence of my Saviour.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Reading this I am caught up on the movement and emotions of your experience and understand better my own ‘trantella’ experiences in my sea of life. You’ve taken us on a journey through the prequel to your point during the prayer session and by doing this I am as one sitting beside you on that couch truly empathizing with you. But more than that I am encouraged with you and ready to sail with you navigate your corrected course through the grace Christ’s has revealed to you through the process. Great job Denise. You really tied this together nicely!


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