Like a Paper Boat on a River

Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.Genesis 28:15

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

I remember crystal clear when and how I came to acknowledge a fundamental truth about human life: we are each like a paper boat made by a child and randomly thrown into a river. This hard truth came to me when I was six years old while sitting next to a stream in a very small farming village in Korea. Several months prior to that moment, my great-aunt dropped me at my grandparents’ house, saying, “Behave yourself! You have been such a burden to your mother.” First, I thought that it was a kind of punishment, and believed that my mother would bring me back to her. One evening grandmother told me, “Your mother is not coming to take you back, because she is married to another man. You are just an unnecessary burden to her.” At first I did not understand what my grandmother said and later I wanted to deny it. But after several months passed by there was still no word from my mother.

On that day, for whatever reason, I made a paper boat and placed it in the stream. I then sat down on a hill nearby to watch how far it would float until it sank. Suddenly, I felt exactly like that paper boat. My parents made me for reasons I did not know and then dropped me off at a random place when I became a burden to them. Like the paper boat, I could sink into the harsh stream of life at any moment. I looked up to the sky and asked, “Why am I here?”, hoping for a divine being to listen and give me an answer. But there was no answer on that day or on any other day until I found the answer myself.

Freedom is such a complicated term, condition, and reality, especially when it involves decisions that can deeply impact a human life or the lives of many. One thing I know for sure is that none of us had the freedom to choose where and how we begin our lives. And, living a life as a human often means struggling through many cruel realities that are presented by life itself. Like a paper boat floating on a stream, often we do not have a choice of where we are going or whether we want to go there at all. But unlike the paper boat, we are able to transform ourselves from being made of paper into being made of wood or even metal! Though we have little if any freedom when it comes to the conditions of life in which we find ourselves, we do have the freedom to choose how we maneuver through those conditions and to nurture and cultivate our transformation or regeneration.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee