Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Sea

There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. (Psalm 104.25)

The Most Sacred Substance

While Creationists and Darwinists bicker over the origin of life, both agree water existed before it began. Evolutionists cite water as the medium in which life spontaneously erupted and developed. Although their opponents differ regarding what transpired in the water, they concur it was there from the start, based on Genesis 1.2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The implicit agreement between such dogged foes startles us with water’s distinction as the only tangible substance that predates life. We accept it as the basis of life, so much so we can’t conceive life existing anywhere without it. Yet very seldom do we consider water as our tactile connection to eternity and, hence, the divine.

Pass your hand through an open tap stream. Go to the river’s edge and scoop up some water. You have touched a thing older than time, a thing possibly as old as God, since we have no Biblical or scientific explanation for its genesis. Water is as impervious to time as its Maker. It exists in a closed cycle of evaporation and condensation that enables it to permeate the landscape and atmosphere. Like God, it flows where it will, rests where it will, and inhabits infinite forms, yet in all of them it remains invulnerable. It’s impossible to manufacture, contain, or destroy. When an organism dies, its water departs and reenters the life cycle. Thus, the water we taste, see, and feel is the same water that covered our planet from the start. It’s the water that felt God’s Spirit brush its surface. It’s the water that flowed in Eden’s delta, deluged Noah, obeyed Moses, and washed over Jesus in baptism. It’s the same water. Water is, has always been, and will forever be the most sacred substance on Earth. Why don’t we get that?

Tampering with the Tabernacle

Nowhere is water’s majesty more visible than the sea. By extension, nowhere do we find a clearer reflection of God’s creativity and energy. Like the water it contains—and the God it reflects—the sea has a life of its own that the rest of Creation draws from and is drawn to. It is, in every way, the reservoir of life and everything that occurs on the planet is made possible by it. The moisture rising from its surface collects in the sky to be transported across the land, where it rains down growth, sustenance, and refreshment. Then, in a miraculous feat of divine gathering, water that escaped the sea makes its way home, carving through mountains and plains, creating climates and terrain to support the planet’s vast diversity of organisms—or, in some regions, fostering diversity of life by its absence. Regardless where we are on the planet, the sea’s journey to and from us affects our lives.

Then there’s the sea itself—a universe we glimpse into and try to understand but can never inhabit. It’s a fearsome thing of astonishing beauty and resilience. Its majesty is displayed in immense tranquility as well as overwhelming ferocity. Because it is at once so familiar and yet completely alien to us, because it’s composed of Earth’s most sacred substance and filled with life forms older than we (another detail we all can agree on), the sea becomes the preeminent place to behold our Maker’s majesty. When Psalm 104’s poet extols the magnificence of Creation, he writes, “There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small.” (v25)

To be sure, all Creation reveals God’s nature and handiwork. All of it should be revered and cherished. But the sea’s prominence as giver and sustainer of life sets it apart as a tabernacle housing God’s majesty in all its mysterious wonder. And when our greed, curiosity, or convenience leads to tampering with the tabernacle on any scale, we shouldn’t expect to be rewarded. So while we can, and should, loathe BP’s recklessness, we’d do well to drop our stones, because none of us is sinless in this matter. We’ve all, at some point, in some way, put self-concern above reverence for the sea and the planet it nurtures.

The Wisdom Narrative

It’s common knowledge Genesis provides two (markedly different) Creation accounts. It’s seldom noted, however, that Proverbs 8 offers a third version we might call “The Wisdom Narrative.” As far as I know, it’s the only first-person testimony we have, other than God’s occasional mention of our origins. Here, “Wisdom” tells the story, prefacing it with, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. When there were no oceans, I was given birth.” (v23-24) The narrator goes on to describe the fashioning of the heavens, seas, and land, adding, “Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (v30-31)

Of course, this is Solomon taking poetic license. Yet as believers striving to get our arms around our environmental responsibilities, we should incorporate his version into our awareness. Solomon tells us wisdom is older than water, which makes it key to environmentally sound behavior. Was it wise for BP to expedite deep-sea drilling without heed to warnings, precautions, and contingencies? No. Are we any wiser in ignoring warnings, precautions, and contingencies attached to goods and services we use or habits we’d rather not break? No, we are not. In light of the disasters we’ve seen of late and ongoing tragedies we’ve abetted, Wisdom’s closing remarks in verses 34-36 are chilling: “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”

The sea is the tabernacle where God’s majesty is displayed in all its wonder. Tampering with it on any scale is not wise.


Sherry Peyton said...

The Jewish cosmology accounted water as surrounding all, separated by the firmament and dry land created by God. Of course, water traversed the landscape as all plants needed it as did humans.

The scientific reality of cosmic bombardment by comets as the source is no less magnificent, and the reality of our world and its awesome liquid is breathtaking.

Water always has been and should be sacred for it is live giving and is so metaphorical in its use.

How we could be so careless of it is simply mind boggling. I'm told that in Canada no deep water drilling is allowed without a bottom kill well drilled at the same time. This is what ultimately will kill this gulf spill, but it will take months, and it may already be too late. The horror is too much to fathom.

Tim said...

Sherry, both explanations of water's source are astonishing in that they grant water's pre-existence before the world as we know it. It was just there--somewhere--which is why we find its parallels to God so inviting, I think.

Living on Chicago's lakefront has blessed me to understand the long-term impact of our recklessness. While Lake Michigan is not a toxic stew by a long shot, it's far from the vital fount it was a century ago. I recently caught a sobering documentary about the Great Lakes, "Waterlife," that broke my heart. Now when I look out my window, I see a deeply scarred treasure wounded by indifference and neglect.

You're right, the horror we've visited on this great gift--not only in Gulf, but in every pond, river, lake, and ocean--is too much to fathom. (To say nothing of the coming sorrow if we don't act quickly to correct global warming.)

Thanks for contributing to this. It's a topic rife with complexity, yet saddled with more urgency than many are will to grant it.


Kelly said...

The oil rig disaster is exceedingly depressing. I watch the 'flow cam' or whatever it is they call it, and see the oil hushing out, and think of the 11 men that perished...

If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is. I'm pleased to have Obama in office, but honestly, I'm not sure anyone is truly listening to what this disaster is screaming at us.

TomCat said...

Tim, if I may disagree on one small point: It’s impossible to manufacture, contain, or destroy. It is possible to manufacture. Water is a biproduct of burning hydrogen.

But whether one tales the truths of Genesis literally, as you seem to, allegorically as I do, or not at all as many Darwinists believe, all agree that water predated life in this planet.

The befouling of the Gulf is an afront to every living creature.

Tim said...

Kelly, it's great to see you here! Welcome! I think this one will be heard, if not by the current generation in power, by the next one who is watching in utter disbelief. But regardless of who else does or doesn't heed the tragedy unfolding before our eyes, those of us who have heard now bear the responsibility to live the lesson we've learned. That gives me brighter hope. Thanks for your comment; you tap into the core of our hearts.

TomCat, thanks for the clarification. I did not know that. (I imagine I should, given how such basic info is a Google away; I'd been taught it wasn't possible.) My take on Genesis is less literal than romantic; the truth I find in its precepts makes it true for me. I have an inkling all our various readings are probably closer to one another than we realize, as the majority of us all come away from the text with a very similar message.

Kelly and Tom, it does my heart good to have you here. I thank you for what you've already added to our conversation--and look forward to future comments.

Blessings to both of you,

PS: I'm adding several blogs to the roll here in tomorrow's post. Tom, I'm pleased that you'd like to be included. Kelly, I'm adding yours as well--if you'd rather I not, let me know and I'll remove it.

claire said...

I thought I had left a comment here, Tim, but maybe it didn't register. If it did, just delete this one.

I love what you wrote about water, so much so I sent it to my water engineer daughter, who fell under the charm of your pen as well.

This post is so beautiful, I will return to it again because it feeds something in me, some part I did not know needed to be fed.

As to BP, I still think we all need to ween ourselves of our addiction to oil and gas. I guess 'Oil Anonymous' would sound better than 'Gas Anonymous', but we just need to realize that our addiction is killing the planet...


Tim said...

Claire, I didn't get your earlier comment. Thank you so much for reposting it. And thanks for passing the post along to your daughter--I'm flattered but also humbled, particularly since I was a little fuzzy about some of the science when writing this.

You're so right about the BP mess. There would be none if we'd corrected our fossil fuel dependency. Maybe this will help us see why running out tanks of gas to drive around the corner is unhealthy for us and the planet. We're not only supporting ecological carelessness, we're funding companies that will risk everything we hold precious if they can squeeze a few more pennies out of us.

We live two blocks from a BP station. Every time we walk past it since this thing began, we're struck by how its business has declined. Yesterday afternoon--a holiday Saturday, no less--there wasn't one car on the place. Now if we can start seeing that elsewhere; that will mean less driving is going on!

Thanks again for taking the time to rewrite your comment. It's a blessing to me!

Peace and joy,

TomCat said...

Well said, Tim. I suspect that we do as well.