Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The sea. It has captivated me for years, all my life I think. I remember once donning my fins, mask and snorkel, dipping beneath the water several feet, looking back up at the glimmering, fluid surface and thinking I was in another world. Often that is how it has felt to me - another world, and I think rightly so. The seas and the ocean's are amazing things and perhaps one illustration of that is to simply ask different people what it means to them. For some they are enamoured with the life beneath the waves, for others it is the water themselves, a source of renewable energy yet to be tapped. Someone else might look to the sheer power of the waves, and still other people may find their thoughts considering weather patterns or maybe food and industry. Wherever your thoughts take you one thing about the sea is certain, it is an awesome and wonderful thing. No wonder then that many in ancient times saw the sea in an almost divine status, either that or they just plain feared it.

Psalm 107, verse 23. "Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters; They have seen the works of the Lord, And His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; Their soul melted away in misery."

"Their soul melted away in misery". Absolutely spot on. I don't know if you've ever felt it but there's something about the sea that can do that to you. I remember once when I was about twelve. I was with my family on holiday in Gibraltar and on that particular day we were spending some time at the beach. I loved the water and had my snorkelling gear with me. I had been enjoying swimming around and exploring the rocks under the water looking for crabs and observing the fish. It was another world under there and I found it both exciting and peaceful. Beneath the waves I felt at home, with the silence of the depths leaving me to my own thoughts and the water giving me the freedom to fly. Life is all around, going on with it's curious business completely ignorant of the madness above their shining crystal sky.

So it was that I had been loving life that day, and as I dived and swam and tumbled I progressively moved out further, from rock to rock into deeper water. Well, I don't know how long I had been on the move but there came a point when I brought my head up, above the surface to take a look around. I saw the shore a way off, and then...I looked down. Almost instantly all that had been excitement and joy and life turned to, 'my soul melting away in misery'. As I looked down and around me all I saw was darkness. Deep dark blue and black. I could see nothing beneath me but deep. As I felt the irresistible influence of the water around me and I recalled the existence of those things alive and supreme in the deep my vulnerability became all too obvious to me. No longer did I want to be where I was, nor did I want to dip once again beneath the waves.

There is, I think, a common sensation shared amongst those who have had the experience of being truly helpless. The feeling of having been gripped by something far more powerful you, which, were it not for mercy or intervention, could have had its way with you and you would have been unable to resist it. In the hand of something powerful and fearful which almost makes you want to beg for mercy. It is a harrowing experience that reaches somewhere so deep inside that you'll always remember and be able to feel its touch. It is that touch which, never leaving, removes an aspect of pride and forces you into a perspective that prevents you from ever passing a point of self-inflation and where you can never take life for granted.

Returning to the example of the sea, perhaps you have seen images of an island surrounded by beautiful, sparkling, bright blue water, but as you look further from the shore, maybe sixty or seventy feet out, suddenly bright blue becomes midnight blue as the shallow and life abundant shore pressed through the tidal zone and then reaches the shelf before dropping off into the depths of the ocean, sometimes into an abyss. It's one thing to look at that and know what's happening, and it's another when you make the journey for yourself. To go from the bright shallow, to the blue deep, to then bottomless black. You can still be treading the same water, but all of a sudden, there is nothing beneath you and its feels as though you could fall forever, be sucked down into the dark from where you know you would have no hope of returning. Truly it is something that can send you 'reeling and staggering like a drunken man' and bring you to your "wits' end".

Life, colour, joy and excitement; harrowing depth and fearful darkness. Such is the paradox of the ocean and such can be the experience of life and faith. I don't know that I need to expand on the life and light side of things. At those moments all feels right and good and as it should be. The future is bright and faith abounds for all manner of deeds and passions as one flies through the waters of grace and faith enjoying life and God. There have been times in my life, however, when over time I have drifted off a little further from the shoreline. Out and out until the next time I look I have found myself in foreign places away from the colour and movement and replaced instead with darkness and empty depths, and out in those depths, have had encounters. Circled by beasts I had heard existed but never thought I'd see in my own waters. Bumped, grazed, cut and even bitten by monsters of the deep which came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. Once, twice, three times and more - and with each encounter the knowledge of their existence, and power of their presence, presses itself with fear more deeply into the mind until I was haunted by their presence. Barely shadows, they move in and out of view, lingering at the edge of my visibility and knowing, it seems, that where my visibility fades theirs precedes on. They almost seem to smile, confident in the knowledge that as I drift in their darkness and they circle it becomes all the more certain they will eventually have my back. They are creatures of the darkness, at their best in their element, hunting things that let themselves float into darker waters who are not even aware of their presence. An unseen bolt from the deep and many are snatched away in silence, carried to depths unknown, where hope fades with the light.

Such are the nightmares of life and faith, but more than that, they are the touches which linger. Experiences of something darker and deeper within oneself, something real. At first came surprise, that such could exist in oneself - that I could be that bad. Second comes the question that perhaps you are not who you thought you were, and if not, then who might you be, and what things that you thought to be truth might now be false. Then, for those who do not fail to recover from that second hurdle - defeating the lie that because some things have fallen all will soon fall and when once you had everything now you see there is nothing - come successes, proofs that all is not lost. These can press on and much faith and joy can be restored, and perhaps for some the battle is over. For others however, myself, there remains the lingering uncertainty of the deep. Things had come to the surface which you once thought did not or could not exist within yourself. You realise that your soul is deeper than you thought, and also darker, and as you continue to ponder your true nature, and at times things continue to come into the shallows, you wonder just what might lie beneath. You find yourself frozen between the desire to reenter the captivating, joyful, vibrant and peaceful world, revealing its joys to others but undesiring to leave the shore because you do not wish to draw these things to anyone else's waters.

What then do we who "go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters" do in the face of such darkness? How do we continue when the darkness seems so great and the depths without hope?

"Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven."

We look to the Lord of the ocean, to the one who held the waters in His hands before He formed the seas and all that is within them. We call to the one for whom the darkest deep is clearer than purest waters by the most golden sands. For just as those 'shadows of the deep' look further than we, so He sees all and can pluck them from the sea like minnows. We trust Him who called to us knowing full well what lurked in our deepest waters even before we had ventured into the shallows. Most of all we hope in Him who by the reality of His blood ensured that He would turn our deepest darkness into brightest light and who can change work deep within the depths of abyssal plains and rifts that head down towards one's core. In those places, from which what is in the heart of man flows out, He is able to work such wonders as to transform the fissures into fountains of life and not death. To wander into darker waters is not good, and those who choose to dwell there will be susceptible to its dangers - and they will come. Yet for those who choose to linger in the bright shallows around Christ's shore there need be no fear of shadows from the deep. For they cannot snatch from His reefs those who stay their hearts on Him and in his waters remain; and He whose breath can move the tides knows the way and is able to carry those who trust Him, who float in Him, closer to Him and to the places of their desires. What is more, all the time He is purifying in the deep, even beyond the reaches of the deep darkness, for God cannot be out done and all is God's domain for deeper still than the heart of a man and the darkness of evil, God is deepest of all. The final work; men rising up to praise God, to honour and serve Him. Life and truth are proclaimed, storms are silenced, and despite the insidious and pervasive darkness men become shining light.

Whatever we may be, if we place ourselves in the hands of God we will become whatever He makes us.

"Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for his wonders to the sons of men!"