“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.“
This is the opening stanza of John Masefield’s great poem (which I did earlier this week in a “Poet’s Corner” reading). I totally embrace line 1, lines 3b-4; I’m not a sailor, so I dare not celebrate (for myself) lines 2-3a. But that’s OK.
Why did I (and why do I) go to Destin for a couple of days of R&R this past week, instead of anywhere else? Why must I “go down to the seas again…”? Besides the fact that I have dear and generous friends who allow me into their condo here, there’s a fundamental, magnetic draw for me with the Gulf, ever since I came to Alabama. What is it?
The answer is very Biblical. Let me quote from 1 of my favorite Psalms:
“The waters have lifted up, O Lord/The waters have lifted up their voice/The waters have lifted up their thunder/Greater than the roar of mighty waters/More glorious than the surgings of the sea/The LORD is glorious on high” (Ps 93).
I have thought of this passage while walking on the beach ever since my then adoptive parents in Alabama, Glen and Pat Adams, would invite me down to their place outside Panama City Beach. The sound of the surf always took (and takes) me to a place of adoration for the glory of the Lord. If we believe (as Pope Francis insists) that the name of God is “Mercy,” then think of the immensity of the Gulf and the oceans, and think of His mercy in that context. When I brought a friend from Alabama to visit in Chicago, his first reaction to Lake Michigan was, “My God—it’s the ocean!” Not, it’s not, and neither is the Gulf. Doesn’t that give us a clue to the immensity of God’s merciful love for us? Is there a better “rip-current” ever to be caught in??
There’s another part (perhaps) to the attraction of the sea: in Biblical terms, again, the sea is the abode of the dead (Revelation 20:13, 21:1b). Perhaps my longing is for a death to re-birth (aka, living out my baptism)—it’s a place both of tomb and womb, of dying to be born again. It’s a place of promise for healing and renewal, of reconciliation and transformation. Yes, I long for this. And perhaps I see, in the sea, the sign and promise of its realization. “I must go down to the seas again…”