Thursday, October 11, 2007
GOD IS A SEA
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fail into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence.
I am the Lord: why don't you fear me? Why don't you tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary of the sea, a permanent boundary that it cannot cross. The sea may toss, but it cannot go beyond it; the waves may roar, but they cannot break through.
Come and see what God has done, his wonderful acts among us. He changed the sea into dry land; our ancestors crossed the river on foot. There we rejoiced because of what he did. Who is a God like you, who pardons sin... You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
There will be strange things happening to the sun, the moon, and the stars. On earth whole countries will be in despair, afraid of the roar of the sea and the raging tides... Then the Son of Man will appear... When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth... and there was no longer any sea.
(Psalm 46:1-3, GNB; Jeremiah 5:22, GNB; Psalm 66:5-6, GNB; Micah 7:18-19, NIV; Luke 21:25-28, GNB; Revelation 21:1, NIV)
Every day we are made promises. Advertisers promise us cheap peace, translating our wants into needs. A trouble-free existence is ours, for a price. Sometimes preachers, too, promise serenity without strife, tranquillity without turmoil, resurrection without Gethsemane or Calvary. Whilst we must not let anyone crucify us who cannot resurrect us, Jesus said there is no life except through death. As one mystic put it, the Spirit of God and our own spirits strive together in a storm of love. In this 'strife of love' each spirit is deeply wounded by love. Gethsemane is not a detour. The primal sin of Adam and Eve was to try to get knowledge without working for it, to 'arrive' without the pain of the journey, to attain 'instant godliness'.
God is a sea, says Ruysbroeck. The sea, for the ancient Hebrews, was a turbulent place where danger lurked. (So the Jews did not make good sailors; they left that to the Phoenicians.) Deliverance from the Red Sea was a recurring theme for wonder-full recollection. Apocalyptic writers pictured great beasts coming out of the sea. In heaven there will be 'no more sea'. But the 'second death' is symbolised by a 'lake of fire' (Revelation 19:20, 20:14).
So the sea of love, where we meet God, is sometimes a fearful place. Love is always enhanced by courage and hard work. The objects of temporal love eventually die, so the more we love, the more risks we take. The opposite of love is inertia, doing nothing.
As we begin this journey, sometimes through uncharted, unfamiliar seas, let this text encourage us: 'When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you... for I am the Lord your God, who saves you' (Isaiah 43:2-3).
Here begins the sea that ends not till the world's end.
Where we stand,
Could we know the next high sea-mark set beyond
these waves that gleam,
We should know what never man hath known, nor eye of
man hath scanned...
Ah, but here man's heart leaps, yearning towards the gloom
with venturous glee,
From the shore that hath no shore beyond it, set in all
A.C. Swinburne, 'On the Verge', from A Midsummer Vacation
The enlightened man shall go out and observe God in his glory with all saints. And he shall behold the rich and generous outflowing of God, with glory, and with himself, and with inconceivable delights towards all the saints, according to the longing of all spirits; and how these flow back, with themselves, and with all that they have received and can achieve, towards that same rich oneness from which all bliss comes forth.
This flowing forth of God always demands a flowing back; for God is a Sea that ebbs and flows, pouring without ceasing into all his beloved according to the need and the merits of each, and ebbing back again with all those who have been thus endowed both in heaven and on earth, with all that they have and all that they can.
Ruysbroeck, quoted in David Walker, God is a Sea
The ebbing and flowing of the tide is a continuing phenomenon. Each day the tide comes in and draws out. It is the same with the divine tide. The Father has not simply poured his graces into our hearts on an isolated occasion in the past; he continues to do so in the life situation of each person. The divine love floods the universe. Each situation is a graced situation, a sacrament in which the divine is present, open to us, reaching out in love. This ever-present divine love draws us to itself within each situation. The love of the lover draws the beloved to a love of which he alone is not capable.
There are two attitudes with which we can confront this overwhelming truth. We can be like the beach over which the tide flows and ebbs. It is open and unresisting; it receives and it gives; it lets its mood be determined by the tide. On the other hand we could be like the rocks on which the same tide runs but which are hard and stand fast, resisting -- even fighting -- the tide and refusing to be affected by it. We must imitate the openness and unresisting character of the beach, for it is only then that the divine power within the Father's approach is able to draw us to him... So long as the beach awaits patiently the inflowing of the tide and yields generously to its ebbing, the pattern of nature is fulfilled. In the same way, it is only when the person patiently and humbly opens himself to the divine approach and lets himself be drawn out in response by the divine power within it that the divine plan achieves its fulfilment.
David Walker, God is a Sea
Don't let yourself be torn between yesterday and tomorrow.
Live always and only God's today.
Dom Helder Camara, A Thousand Reasons for Living
Acknowledging mystery, then, does not prevent authentic 'asking and seeking and knocking', but it does not stop there. It also encourages one to take the best light one has and do what one can to bring glory and not resentment out of any given situations. We do not have to understand perfectly why the waves flood over us to make certain creative responses to them. There is much that can be done with what we do know now that need not wait fuller explanation.
John Claypool, adapted from a sermon 'Absurdity, Causality and Mystery'
God is good... he who gives us our lives not only rules over us but loves us, likes us, is for us and not against us. Out of this realisation comes the ability to receive the events of life with gratitude, not resentment, and to regard them as expressions of mysterious love rather than as acts of hostility. It is amazing the difference a stance of gratitude can make in the way we cope with difficulty. If we begin to look on the things that happen to us as good gifts of a Father, then even the problems take on a different shape. Instead of seeing them as hopeless obstacles to our happiness, we come to see them as the challenges that give life its meaning and excitement. What would our existence be like, really, if no effort were ever called for or no challenges ever posed?. Such a levelled-off existence would be intolerably boring. G.K. Chesterton was right in saying that a positive challenge is a difficulty rightly understood. Problems cease to be overwhelming when we see them as something to be received in gratitude.
John Claypool, The Light Within You
Just as it is the nature of the tide to flow in and to draw out again, so it is the nature of the Father not only to reach out in love but also to draw all things to himself. The Father is the fountain and source of all life. He shares that life with his Son and his Spirit in a communion in which what comes forth returns to him. It is this same life which the Father extends through the Son and the Spirit to mankind in a communion in which what comes forth from him is meant to return to him. The Father presents himself as love, openness, self-offering, invitation, sharing, in a way to which every person has the capacity to respond and to find in him his ultimate goal.
David Walker, God is a Sea
Accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams, give a completely different turn to your day and -- who knows7 -to your life.
It is not chance.
Leave the Father free himself to weave the pattern of your days.
Dom Helder Camara, A Thousand Reasons for Living
Lord, I am prone sometimes to imagine that the tides of my life are buffeting me without purpose, tossing me to and fro without meaning, battering me painfully against the hard rocks cruelly.
Sometimes the storms really are fierce, the skies are grey, and you seem to be absent. It's just not true that 'my life is all sunshine in the sweetness of the Lord'.
Lord, remind me that you have never promised to deliver from struggle and agony and conflict. In the world we shall have trouble. Your own experience of life among us was a parable of struggle in hope.
But in that struggle you overcame the world. Just as a stone becomes beautifully smooth only in constant friction, so in the mystery of your purposes for us, you create a thing of beauty only in our chastenings. Conflict is the price to be paid for spiritual creativity and growth. That which resists us perfects us.
So Lord, when the waves are huge, and I feel so helpless, let me not move against them in rage, or go under them in helplessness, but flow with them in faith and hope.
'You have given so much to us, give us one thing more, a grateful heart; for Christ's sake. Amen'(George Herbert).
May you experience the peace of God in your trouble, hope when you are tempted to despair, joy through your pain, faith and courage when the heavens seem silent, and the sure knowledge that the Lord has been through it all too. He understands, he cares, and he loves you, very much.
Lord, may we live by faith, walk in hope, and be renewed in love until the whole world reflects your glory, and you are all in all.
Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Rowland Croucher, from Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion) chapter 18.