Brought to you by Allan Gillis from The Remnant:
There is nothing natural about it.
You come into the wall, you turn yourself upside down, blindly reach for the wall with your feet, push off, and hope you are headed in the right direction.
Flip Turns. I have dreaded flip turns for as long as I have been swimming, which is going over a dozen years now.
For most of those years, even though I swam 5 times a week at points, I never learned how to do flip turns. You know those cool turns that Olympic swimmers do and we watch on underwater cameras? They look so easy. They’re not.
Oh sure, I tried a few times, but it was always so disorienting and uncomfortable. I always seemed to be in the wrong position and doing the wrong thing. I felt like everyone was looking at me as a fool. I quickly gave them up.
In this way, flip turns are a lot like the Traditional Latin Mass. Some of us may have once or twice attended a Latin Mass, but every time we do it we feel uncomfortable. We are standing when we should be kneeling. You have no idea where the priest is in the mass. We only have the little red book without any of the readings. Surely, everybody must be noticing that I don’t have a clue what I am doing. It is disorienting and we don’t immediately get anything out of it, so we give up. What’s the point?
So like I said, I never learned how to do flip turns. A few years ago, after a significant hiatus, I started swimming again. I tried a few flip turns, and as always, it was awful and uncomfortable, and so I gave up for the same reasons I always had. “Let me just focus on swimming,” I said to myself. ”Flip turns aren’t really that much better anyway.”
But then a thought occurred to me. Since I was just getting back into things, and was not in any way competitive, and most of the people at the pool where I swam seemed to be contemporaries of Teddy Roosevelt, I decided that now was the time. I checked on the Google and YouTube machines to find the best way to do it and person after person said this one simple thing. “The only way to learn how to do flip turns is to do it a thousand times. Do it a thousand times, and you will have it.”
So it was then I started doing flip turns. And let me tell you this. It. Was. Awful. Water up my nose. Breathing all off. On several occasions I turned too early and completely missed the wall, ending in an embarrassing dead man’s float. Sometimes I was too close to the wall and actually had my legs land outside the pool on the deck with a loud and painful thud. Sometimes I ended up in the wrong lane after push off, heading right at another swimmer. That happened three times. All of it was so uncomfortable and embarrassing.
I was all over the place and my swimming suffered. Actually, I couldn’t even think about swim mechanics as I swam because all of my attention was focused on the next flip turn. And so it went for weeks. But over time, I missed less and less and I learned how to time my breathing and my approach stroke better. My push-offs became straighter and straighter.
And lo and behold, by the time I reached my 1,000th flip turn, I had it down. I didn’t even really need to think about it anymore. So I began to re-focus on my swim mechanics and then I noticed something.
There was a guy that often swam at the same time as I did. We often shared a lane as we swam at the same speed and so we didn’t get in each other’s way. He didn’t do flip turns. Shortly after my thousandth flip turn, he was swimming in the lane next to me and our swimming speed still matched up. But when we got to the wall, I was a full body-length ahead of him coming off the wall. No extra effort, but a full body-length advantage on each lap. Wow, it turned out there was a benefit after all; you just have to suffer repetition and patiently learn and then suddenly it is all clear. This is why you put the time in to learn. This is why you suffered through discomfort and embarrassment. All because at the end, it really is better.
The Latin Mass can be the same way. It feels awkward and pointless when we first assist at a Latin Mass, particularly a low mass. We watch the other experienced faithful kneel and stand and try to copy them. Even after a few visits, the only thing we seem to have mastered is the “et cum spiritu tuo.” We can barely follow what is happening and but for the re-readings in English, we wouldn’t have a clue. It all seems pointless. Awkward silence, seemingly vain repetitions, and tons of stuff we can’t understand even if we can hear it; all with little or no discernible benefit. Honestly, it can seem a lot like flip turns when you first start.
But something amazing happens when we stick with it. You get a good missal and learn the basics of following along. You become familiar with the Ordinary of the mass, having read it and its translation dozens of times. You know where to find the propers and read along. Then you start to read the red instructions and begin to understand why the priest is doing what he is doing and what he is saying. You know what to expect each day and it doesn’t really matter which priest is saying the mass.
And then one day you come to realize that you are no longer thinking about any of that and are totally focused on Christ in the mass. That you are joined with the priest as he offers the sacrifice. Your participation is much more active than it ever was before, even though you do less. That in the silence you once found awkward, you now hear God, like you never have before. And then you know why it was all worth it and, like flip turns, it is hard to remember what it was like before you knew.