I stepped out to the railing for a little solitude and meditation when I noticed some movement on the water. We had been on the open sea for nearly 24 hours, a couple of hundred miles from any land. We had another 30 hours to go before we were in sight of the coast of New Zealand. I saw a bird making big figure-eight sweeps, just above the water. It was not a seagull. It was a huge white bird gliding effortlessly along beside the ship. It was an albatross. Soon it was joined by another. Together they systematically watched and fished from one side of the ship, around the back to the other side. Over and over, hour after hour, they followed the ship across the ocean. Apparently, big ships stir up good fish.
That night near gale-force winds blew for hours. The next morning the birds were back at their posts, seemingly unfazed by the hard night. Two days later we saw the rugged point near the lighthouse where the Southern Royal Albatross nest. Their wing span can be nine feet from tip to tip. Over the course of two years they will circle the earth and then return to their nests. Breed, raise their chicks and start the journey anew.
I knew only one thing about the albatross: you don’t want one hanging around your neck. I did not know the story behind the saying. The sailors of old thought the albatross was almost magical because of the way it seemed to float in the air beside their ships. Maybe, they thought, it carried the souls of sailors to protect them. In the 1798 poem by Samuel Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the old sailor needlessly kills an albatross, then the wind stops blowing becalming the ship. In their anger, the crew takes the albatross and hangs it around the offender’s neck as punishment. The key line says: Instead of the cross, the albatross / About my neck was hung. Somehow the albatross has become a symbol of a hindrance or unwanted burden, rather than a symbol of strength, endurance and perseverance. Today some wear a cross around their necks for jewelry alone, no longer a true symbol of the suffering, shame and punishment for our sins.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Take up your cross. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.