A few ways to look at the sea

Seafaring for me is such a great metaphor for the work we do as Christians. Rod brought a seafaring analogy last week when he was training our cell leaders. It stuck with me so much I wanted to write a bit more about it. Check out what Rod already has going about it.

For starters, Jesus’ conquest of the sea—summoning hundreds of fish onto empty nets, walking on it, and also calming it—is a sign of his power and authority to a Jewish community that was by and large afraid of the sea. Contrast Jesus’ miracles to Jonah being consumed by a large fish, Noah being saved from the flood, and the general imagery in the scripture of danger in the water. You can see why the image of Moses splitting the Red Sea and leading the Israelites out of captivity is so salvific.

Sea monsters live under the sea, and it is where danger lurks. One way to view the danger under the sea is like viewing the danger in your subconscious. Being aware of the sea monsters that are buried in you is an important part of being able to navigate the ocean. Sometimes both our fear of them and our unawareness of them can cause us to act different ways right on the surface. So, in one view, the sea itself is our being and we are navigating it as such. That image, centered on ourselves, is not the only one.

In another view, the desert fathers thought of the sea as the whole world. We are shipwrecked (like the poor Apostle Paul who seemed to always get shipwrecked) and we are swimming to our safety. That view is quite negative, but sometimes it feels like life is that hard, doesn’t it?

Plastered in my office are two sayings that keep my eyes on the voyage, and continue the seafaring analogy.

tumblr_mvlh1hhtwP1s9d80io1_1280The first one, that helps me get through the hardest days with the most troubled waters says Calm seas don’t make good sailors. We are sailors, traversing the sea on the ships we’ve built. Those ships could be ourselves or they could be the the community we are forming. If we want to be adept sailors, we had better get used to the rough waters because the world is filled with them. To go through life and only voyage when the path seems easy is to not only minimize where we travel, it also minimizes what we can withstand. If our boat will never face any rough seas, it does not need to be so strong either. We have to build our ships to withstand the high seas, but also we have to learn how to sail through the roughest patches of water. Depression, fatigue, anxiety, death, loneliness.

Jesus was a great sailor, one of the reasons, was because it was his sea. The sea listened to him. The disciples are fascinated that this guy can control the sea—the very thing that intimidated their ancestors for generations.

But still, the vast seas, even if Jesus can come them. The old Breton Fisherman’s prayer that was on JFK’s desk (as bretonwell as John Boehner’s apparently) is another one that’s on the wall of my office: O, God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small. I’m not sure that the author of the prayer is very nervous, but you may read his prayer that way. It’s important to know that knowing that our boat is limited—we can’t get too grandiose in our self-perception. We need God to help us navigate his vast sea. Boehner might need God to help him navigate the impossible waters of his side of the aisle. JFK certainly had rough waters to navigate as he led the country. We too, need to know that we are traveling in the seas that God created, that Jesus can control, and that we are destined to traverse. Trust God, and travel among a fleet. We will sail well.

3 Replies to “A few ways to look at the sea

  1. Jonny –

    Appreciate the encouragement. I need some things like this near my desk.

    Reminds me of an old friends of mine who was a dairy farmer. He liked to remind himself that ‘God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.’ when he looked out at the 150 cows he had on his 2 or 3 hills.

    I could do well to remember that – that my boat is small but God’s ocean is vast – in the rough seas of my days.


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