It’s time to get in a boat and head to a remote place, island, cove, or a secluded little beach. It’s summer in Canada where the majority live huddled along the Canada US border, the few living in a vast northern wilderness which, according to The Wildlife Conservation Society, holds the second-largest area of wilderness after Russia.
That’s great news because even though we can find solitude and silence in city parks as I did when I lived in Toronto, we need to get away to a remote wilderness place.
Preferably we need to get in a boat because being on the water is like floating on a heavenly cloud, and if it gets nasty we’ve got Jesus asleep in the back who will tell us again after rebuking the wind, “Why were you terrified?”
Our Lord frequently sought remote places to pray alone, and a boat was his favourite way to get there. He loved being near the water or on the water as we all do.
When He heard of John the Baptist’s death, he got in a boat and headed to a deserted place to pray (Mt. 14:13).
Another time after feeding 5000, Jesus “…made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side.” Once there, he hiked up the mountain by himself to pray. “When it was evening, he was there alone” (Mt. 22-31). So you, hikers, that’s a great way too.
In Mark’s Gospel, after the apostles gathered with him to tell all they had taught and done in his name Jesus said, ‘“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” People were coming and going in large numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place’ (Mark 6: 30-32)
Paddling a kayak is my treasured way to slice through deep, glassy, black water to a lonely place. Canadian cities are usually about two to three hours or less drive to rivers and lakes, hills and forests. Expansive and beautiful Algonquin Provincial Park is only about three hours from Toronto or Ottawa, where you’ll find a place to paddle with an undeveloped shoreline.
Isolated places can be found even on the busy Algonquin corridor with all the developed campgrounds. For Canada Day, I headed for Lake of Two Rivers, one of the busiest lakes in the Park.
I put-in at the East Beach access and loaded gear into the hatches: a small cooler with water and lunch, throw rope, pump, folding chair, binoculars, map, and towel and shirt stuffed in a dry bag. One dry bag held the essentials, a book of Psalms, St. John Paul II’s writing, rosary and Magnificat.
With PFD secured, spray skirt hugging the cockpit, the sign of the cross with a short prayer, I pulled the paddle blades through clear, deep, water sending me off to some lonely place to be with the Lord and rest my heart in His.
He draws us, to be with him, so if he is our treasure, He will take us to that place of rest, that place of solitude just as he did for the disciples.
Jesus gave me His Mother so, I talk to our Lady all the time, and it’s she who guides me to that unknown secluded spot.
Jesus accompanies me in the journey, paddling in me, in the rhythmic movements of the paddle, whether I’m heeling the kayak over and holding it on edge with a brace, or pulling the boat around a fallen shoreline tree with a bow-draw as I hug the shore.
Holy Mother, thank you for guiding me to that tiny bit of sandy shoreline unmarked on the map.
Following a swim, I settled into the silent beauty of this rocky shore, interrupted by a short sandy stretch. My first prayer on Canada Day, of course, was to turn to Mary to help our nation. Click here for that prayer.
About an hour later, I paddled up the Madawaska River, one of the two flowing into Lake Of Two Rivers. I’ve paddled many stretches of this beautiful river that begins its 230 km journey from Source Lake in Alqonquin Park, passes by my home in Combermere through towns and villages on its way to Arnprior to disappear into the Ottawa River.
This paddle took me through a winding maze-like stretch at times only a metre wider than the kayak, under century-old white pines that seemed eager to see if I’d make it through the hungry deer flies. It was fun piloting an 18-foot sea kayak around the many hairpin turns in the river.
The Mad has everything. Long lazy stretches, heart-pumping whitewater, Big and Beautiful Bark Lake, a control dam, and town flow. I’ve paddled them all, except this feature. I managed to praise the Lord most of the way. The 32C heat, meandering alder-laden stretches with deer flies attacking me, made it tough to praise Him all the way to the portage where he rewarded me royally with a swim in the falls.
At the falls I met some hikers on the Highland Trail which crosses the Madawaska. He brings to every pilgrimage those He wants me to meet. In those encounters, I meet Him in extraordinary ways. Often, without trying, the chit chat leads to the topic of faith in God. In every person, I get to see a little of the work Jesus is doing to draw each one to Himself. I always ask Him if I can help in some way.
The Lord chases us, longs for our intimacy and places in our hearts an insatiable longing for Him, so pulling away to be with Him with our constant need for consolation and love requires a place of solitude.
In my paddling pilgrimages, as Madonna House priest Fr Zac Romanowski called them, I see many travelling by boat to solitary places setting up the tent and setting in for some time away from the hubbub. Sometimes I notice the din clinging to them as I paddle by. Sometimes it’s in the form of music, noise, or chatter. I carry my hubbub too that silences the whispering voice of God.
I know that they, like me, have made an effort to come away. It may not be to pray, but they’ve responded to the urge to go away for a while by boat to a lonely place. As I pray for them, I know that the Lord will do the rest. He is so good at what he does, drawing us to Himself with our weakness, sins, distracting noise, burdens and worries.
It’s summer, so let’s get in a boat with Jesus and travel to a secluded place where we can rest with our Lord and place our burden at his feet. He may ask us to come for a swim. By his authority, He will cause the water to soothe and heal us.
We will know that it’s He who does it. Then we will say with St Paul, “To Him whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine– to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. (Eph 3:20-21)