WHY WE LOVE THE OCEAN
If you’ve followed The Journal from the beginning, you may remember that the new definition of freedom (the creative pursuit of Truth and Beauty) was in part inspired by the idea of a trip to the ocean. And you may remember that our rendering of the phoenix in part drew its inspiration from the power of ocean waves. (If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the ocean, check out the video of Clark Little on our Truth and Beauty page.)
Back in July, I had the chance to visit friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, and hiked through Presidio down to the ocean one afternoon. After the trip, I was working on putting a video together with my brother using some of the footage, and as we were looking for a soundtrack, we talked about the idea of fitting whatever we chose to the vibe of the ocean. And that’s when it hit me. The ocean is a symbol for nearly everything. And not only does it represent many ideas, it does so paradoxically.
It’s a place of energy, and excitement. It’s a place where you go with friends and play sand volleyball and soccer and four-square (if the sand is firm enough, like at Isle of Palms or Hilton Head—it’s awesome), and go running. It’s a place where you build sandcastles and bonfires and stay up late telling stories and laughing. And yet it’s also a place you can sleep and nap and sunbathe. In the morning, we go for sunrise, and at evening for sunset. We go to live under the sun during the day, and we go to gaze at the stars at night.
The idea of sunrise and sunset, I think, moves us towards emotion, and you could argue that the ocean is a place of joy and sorrow, of relief and desolation, of comfort and despair. It gives us a sense both of fullness and emptiness, of being satisfied and of longing awakened.
If we bring those ideas back to physical experience, it is a place where you can surf a wave, or be crushed by it, swim or drown. It’s a place where we can sail or be shipwrecked, where we can literally eat seafood or be eaten by seafood.
Now we are moving closer to the core: it is a place of life, and it is a place of death. Specifically, life to the full, a life of abundance, and a death that is terrifying, and tragic. It is a place of land, and a place of water, where one begins and the other ends.
Land and water, beginning and end: now we have reached the center of what it is that draws us in so well.
“The glory of God—let it last forever!”
We love the ocean, because it reflects the glory of our creator. And we were made to enjoy his reflection.
But what about all the paradoxes?
Without thinking about it, we intuitively know that they are there, and that none of them really fit together—and yet all of these seeming contradictions live in the same space, and we can live life there and experience them and be content. Removed from the clutter of daily life, I think a trip to the ocean strips to their bare essence each of these ideas that ultimately culminate in life and death. And we go there, and are perfectly happy to live in a world of obviously contrasting ideas.
Something awakens inside of us. We see the glory of God at a deeper level.
Here’s what I mean. I’m currently reading Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr – which I do recommend, but perhaps not at the beach—it’s too heavy. He keeps coming back to this idea of non-dualistic thought (again, just read it). But what he says about grace and abundance I think captures it beautifully, because he moves us towards non-dualistic thought to understand grace more fully:
People who have not experienced the radical character of grace will always misinterpret the meanings and the direction of the Bible. The Bible will become a burden and obligation more than a gift.
Grace cannot be understood by any ledger of merits and demerits. It cannot be held to any patterns of buying, losing, earning, achieving or manipulating, which is where, unfortunately, most of us live our lives. Grace is, quite literally, “for the taking.” It is God eternally giving away God—for nothing—except the giving itself. I believe grace is the life energy that makes flowers bloom, animals lovingly raise their young, babies smile and the planets remain in their orbits—for no good reason whatsoever—except love alone.
Abundance, largesse, excess is the spiritual name of the game, “full measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over and pouring into your lap” (Luke 6:38). Grace will always be experienced as more than enough instead of a mere survival mode. If there is not grace to a situation, it does not really satisfy or give any deep joy.
The ego does not know how to receive things freely or without logic. It prefers a worldview of scarcity, or at least quid pro quo, where only the clever win. It likes to be worthy and needs to understand in order to be able to accept things. That problem, and its overcoming, is at the very center of the gospel plot line. It has always been overcome from God’s side. The only problem is getting us in on the process! That very inclusion of us is God’s humility, graciousness, and love. That God wants free partners becomes very clear in the economy of grace. (Romans 8:28). “Not servants, but friends” (John 15:15) is God’s plan (pp. 156-157).
God’s humility, graciousness, and love are embodied by Jesus—they are Jesus. “Love is a person,” as one wise mentor said to me recently. This is the greatest paradox of all: God became man.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
That awakening, that rejuvenation we feel when we go on a trip to the ocean, to the beach, is pushing us towards God, to live in that freedom deeper than anything we have ever imagined.
It’s an experience of God’s grace. We have fallen from it; and yet, because it’s grace, we haven’t. This is a paradox too big for words! When God came in the flesh, we killed him, because we couldn’t take it. But grace remains. So what if in the tasting, we brought it back to the rest of life with us, into our political and religious culture that keeps us captive to slavery and fear?
What that would look like, we will all have to discover for ourselves, and to be honest, it's taken me all thirty years of my life to see it. But what if, in our political debates, we gave ourselves permission to live in the paradox? Not because there isn’t absolute truth; there is, and we can rest knowing thrones and dominions and our political system in America are all held together by Jesus! Living in the paradox is not “gray area” where we don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. But it’s not as if were I to go on a run on the beach with a counterpart of the other party that we would be slamming each other in the media for our choice of hydration, energy gels, and the right way of thinking about pronation and minimalist running shoes and the benefits of going barefoot. Ultimately what we know absolutely is that there is another Kingdom for which we were created, and there we will run and not grow weary, at least as we understand weariness now.
The story under the story of all of our political fights, therefore, is whether or not we are learning to love our neighbors as ourselves, to let grace flow through us. There is a deeper freedom, a place where "mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!" So as we pursue the Truth of how to govern well, let’s do so in a way that’s beautiful, not to triumph over each other, but because of grace. It’s not as if we will lose it! We will never lose “America”, but we will indeed leave behind the façade, the false identity about which we so often dream. Let this shake us to our core with a new mindset, a new way of life: LIBERATUS—we are set free!
ISSUE 005: RECESS, PART 2