Buoyancy is an upward force exerted by a fluid, that opposes the weight of an immersed object. It was famously discovered by Archimedes in 232 BC while having a bath. He allegedly jumped out of the bath and ran through the streets in the buff shouting “Eureka!” (heúrēka “I have found (it)”). He thus became renowned for all time as the world’s first streaker.
I am a non swimmer. One evening twenty years ago I was showing off my punting skill in Oxford with a group of old schoolfriends after consuming far too much wine at a meadow picnic. The pole stuck fast in the river mud, and I held on too long.
Splash! I was in and drowning. My punt kept sailing on with my friends looking at the bubbles in the river behind them, powerless to help and unaware of my fatal predicament.
Time really does slow down as you die! I remember jumping off the river bed twice but only just breaking the surface, and not for long enough to draw breath As I went down for the third time, I thought with uncanny calm and clarity”What a stupid way to die” but resigned myself to the fact that this was probably the end. Then I jumped for the last time.
My upstretched hand touched something hard, above me, and I grabbed on. I pulled myself up by this handhold. As my head broke the water, I was dazzled by xenon flash, and discovered I was the centre of attention of a punt full of Japanese tourists who had been following us. To them I must have seemed like a creature from the deep come up to eat them, and they must have been rather shocked.
Suddenly safe, I effused my heartfelt thanks to uncomprehending ears with spluttering and coughing thrown in. These practical folk carried their flotsam to the bank and I was able to get onto the bank where I stood dripping. My friends came ashore and fetched spare clothes and a towel from their cars. Soon I was dry enough to accompany them to a nearby Italian restaurant, where I had the best meal of my life.
There is something about nearly losing one’s life: It alters your consciousness, for the better! I suddenly felt more alive than I had ever been, and everything looked more beautiful than I had ever noticed before. This was the first time I realised that death may not have a sting after all, especially if one is rescued from it in the right way.
There is spiritual buoyancy as well. What stops any of us from sinking into the slough of despond unto spiritual death is the indwelling pneuma of the Holy Spirit which fills our spiritual lungs and keeps our heads above water. When we sin mortally, we essentially expel the Spirit and start to sink. Then the symptoms of soul hypoxia begin: guilt, anxiety, anhedonia, joylessness, depression, and so on. If action is not taken soon, we will perish!
Fortunately, patrolling the sea of gloom is our valiant Lifeguard. He sees our death throes and jumps in after us. He dives down to where we are, expiring, and offers us His buddy-breath of life. All it takes is for us to accept it, and it would be mad not to. In no time we will be back afloat.
Of course, those of us within the Church are not swimming, but are aboard the Barque of Peter. That’s not to say that one cannot become a man overboard, by accident or by choice. This is most likely when the barque is in choppy waters.
The Lifeguard may even be asleep in the stern during the storm, but He will rapidly awaken when called, gruffly disabuse us of our faithlessness, quell the storm, then go out to effect rescue. Here is a picture of him doing just that: