Paper Boats

“God has put a sense of past and future into our minds, yet we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

Every year on New Year’s Day, a farmer friend of mine invites friends and family to her house. Together they make little boats out of paper, string, bark and twigs and other found objects.

They try to make their boats as seaworthy as possible. And, when the boats are ready, everybody files down to the stream behind the farmhouse, both the toddlers with their whole lives before them and the old folks with maybe one more winter left.

They squat down at the edge of the water, ice crackling under their feet. They think of a big, hard thing that happened to them in the previous year. They light their boats on fire, and they let them go. Together they watch the boats and the hard things float away (lost job!), or burn up (second marriage…), or get lodged somewhere (grief, like an old war injury).

Sometimes there is laughter and antics, sometimes tears. Sometimes, someone falls in the stream, and has to get fished out. Then they all troop back up to the house for hot chocolate.

A sacrament is: an outward and visible sign of an inner and invisible event. Sometimes, our bodies do things we wish our spirits could do. Die with Christ in the baptismal waters. Eat God. Or, let go of a pain in our past. Sometimes, our body goes first, and our spirits follow, like a little boat on the current, surrendering.


God, you know our whole story: the hard thing that happened last year, and the invisible realities of this new one. You live outside of time and You aren’t telling us more than we need to know. Help us be OK with that, and float. Amen.

About the Author
Molly Baskette is senior minister of First Church Somerville UCC in Somerville, MA, and the author of the book Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back from the Dead and Yours Can Too.