There’s an old German poem called The Helmsman’s Child that I’ve heard referenced many times in my years of formation. The poem was written in German and I haven’t been able to find any good English translations of it. But it’s imprinted an image on my heart that I like to mediate on in times of uncertainty, especially those times when I feel as though I’m caught in a vicious storm with no end in sight. It has helped me to hold tight and ride out the storm.
I was introduced to The Helmsman’s Child in the writings of Servant of God and founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt, Fr. Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968). During his lifetime, Fr. Kentenich spoke frequently about God’s merciful love and divine providence. Throughout his oftentimes difficult life, which included three years of internment in the Dachau concentration camp and fourteen years of exile to a foreign country and then reinstatement by Church authorities, he never once waivered in his trust in God.
Fr. Kentenich referenced the poem n this way when giving a retreat in 1937:
“Though storm may rage and wind may howl, and lightning strike again, I think as does the mariner’s child; My father is at the helm.
You must imagine this scene: A heavy sea. Storm upon storm. A ship tossed by the waves. A child sitting near the helm, calmly looking into the churning sea and amazed by its fury. That is the way of a child: the father is in command. As long as the father is at the helm, nothing bad can happen!”
Fr. Kentenich knew from his own life experiences that the key to navigating all of life’s storms was learning to have childlike trust in the heavenly Father, just as the helmsman’s child trusted him to bring the ship safely home to harbor.
The image of the helmsman’s child became so loved by the Schoenstatt Movement that a painting was created depicting it. The image shows the child caught in a terrible storm yet resting confidently in the hands of God the Father who looks ever-so lovingly at the child. The little one is completely focused on the Father, fully protected and a bolt of lightning descends – not harming the child but instead arching over him in a form outlining the shape of the Schoenstatt Marian Shrines.
I like to imagine myself as that child, gazing into the heavenly Father’s eyes as he gazes back into mine. I “feel” myself resting in his hands and shielded by our Mother Mary’s intercession from the lightning bolts life is throwing at me.
In her Dialogues, St. Catherine of Sienna included a treatise on Divine Providence. She wrote:
“By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, ‘reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.’ For ‘all are open and laid bare to his eyes,’ even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.”
The Church affirms this and teaches that Divine Providence is concrete and immediate and that “God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history.” (CCC, 304)
God is not only creator, but also he is Father. Just as a human helmsman navigates the storm and protects his child, so, too, will the Divine Helmsman navigate the storms of our lives and protect us. Mediating on that should give us comfort and confidence in any uncertainty. Then we’ll be able to say, “I have no need to worry. My Father is at the helm!”