The canoe trip through the Costa Rica jungle rainforest complete with wild monkeys, iguana, sleuths, and stunning flora was a primitive delight.
The highlight of the trip was going through the Panama Canal. The opening of the waterway Aug. 14, 1915, was preceded by the deaths of approximately 25,000 workers. Since that time more than one million ships have enjoyed this five-mile shortcut from ocean to ocean, sparing them the 7,872 additional miles required to go around the tip of South America.
Travel time for ships through the canal is eight to 10 hours.
It is an engineering marvel. The wonder of it is amplified by the present difficulties in trying to provide wider channels to accommodate today’s larger ships. Work on the proposed channel has been halted because of a billion dollar shortfall in construction costs.
Entering the canal from the Atlantic side the failed French effort to develop the canal originally can be seen on the right. To the left is the much larger present day stalled effort. Massive locks prefabricated in Europe stand alone beside the aborted diggings.
It is an engineering marvel that uses no pumps to lift the ships 28½ feet from the lower Atlantic to the higher Pacific Ocean. To accomplish this what was previously the world’s largest man-made lake, Gatun Lake, provides the water to flood the locks as needed by gravitational flow. Approximately 14 feet of rainfall per year supplies the lake’s water.
With all the locomotive power and high tech equipment that controls this sophisticated operation one seemingly insignificant item is needed. Amid the approximately 35 enormous ocean going vessels that go through the canal each day can be seen a tiny two-man row boat. It carries the cables from the powerful locomotives that tow the vessels to the ships. Without it nothing would work. Various means have been tried to replace this seemingly antiquated process. That rowboat is an indispensable element in this colossal operation.
Looking for a lesson in life it is found in that rowboat. It is this:
“You can’t have a greater without a lesser.”
You can’t have a book without chapters, you can have chapters without paragraphs, you can’t have paragraphs without sentences, you can’t have sentences without words, you can’t have words without letters. You can’t have the greater, the book, without the lesser, the letters.
This give importance to every life. When asked who my favorite apostle of Jesus is the answer is always James the Lesser. That is all that is said about him in the Bible. However, being an apostle says a lot about him. He was the lesser in the greater cause.
I find that reassuring regarding my own life. As a lesser part of a greater cause it fulfilling. I am gratified by being a “rowboat” on life’s canal.
As chaplain on a cruise, as in all of life, I am a “lesser” fulfilling a greater cause. Being enabled to speak regularly to an international audience is a delight. Various responses make it a worthwhile experience.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.