Why the Sea Restores Us

The ocean, like no other place on the planet, is God’s gift to teach us how to make peace with the two realities we struggle most with: constancy and change. Let me explain.

Two months ago, Pam and I enjoyed the gift of a week of vacation with some friends who have a condo in Bonaire (an island off the coast of Venezuela, that is part of the Netherlands Antilles).

I gaze off their terrace at the Caribbean, listening to the waves crash steadily onto the shore. The sea is a silky, constantly moving aqua blue with light patches of dark that seem to drift in and out of visibility with the breeze.

The sound is constant and the rhythm healing.

Why is the sea so restorative? Certainly, there are many reasons—beauty, an immensity that speaks to the eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11b). But it’s the visual and sound of every breaking wave that quiets our soul. Why is this? Again, because they’re connected to the two things we struggle with most as humans: change and constancy. Or to put it more starkly, at one extreme there is devastating change, and at the other the slow death of constancy.

Either our worlds get shattered (change) or we’re bored out of our minds (constancy).

Our inability to cope with either change or constancy, or to find peaceful co-existence between the two, often leads or contributes to addictions. One of the reasons we drink, shop, eat, and [insert drug of choice] too much—that is, in a way that dishonors God and others—is either to anesthetize our boredom or fight acceptance of new realities. Think of Sherlock Holmes’ use of morphine when he didn’t have a case. Or Dr. Jekyl’s toleration of Mr. Hyde, who made him feel once again young and energetic.

Addictions are false pursuits of exhilaration when only God should be our first love and master (Matt. 22:37). Sexual addictions are particularly powerful and deceptive because they can make us feel alive, even connected to the transcendent and spiritual. Sex with another outside of marriage and/or mixed with pornography are illicit escapes that result from our disordered desires. But addictions are only symptoms; yes, they stem from of idolatry and unbelief, but they also reveal our lack of peace with constancy and change.

How can the sea and ocean help us with our internal war?

Constancy. The waves are always breaking, sometimes crashing, on the shore. The sound is hypnotic. We go into a peaceful trance. Many of us, even those that don’t like to bake in the sun, choose a beach getaway just so we can stare at ocean or close our eyes and listen to its cadence.  Busyness does violence to the inner recesses of our heart. In fact, the Chinese character for busyness means “soul-killing”.  Thankfully, the ocean—God’s gift—can heal our soul in very real ways.

Most of us must go to work every day. We must pay our rent or mortgage. We must get rest. The dishes must get done. Our families must get fed. Exciting things don’t happen all the time. Discipline, routine, and perseverance help us deal with the same-old-same-old but, at times, we despise this.

Change. We see it vividly in the sand: footprints vanish and sand castles disintegrate. But it’s also true with anything the sea touches. Boardwalks must be replaced. Lighthouses moved.

Fishing piers become unsafe and unsustainable. Nothing lasts. Again, we hate this truth about life, but we know it all too well. Like it or not, we must all move our chairs with the change of tides.

We must grow up. We must get a job. We must change jobs. We must deal with a new boss. We must adjust our diet. Private quiet spots get public and crowded. And, whether we do it gracefully or not, we must age. I remember my grandmother saying to me, with deep weariness, while we were waiting—yet again—for the ambulance to pick up my grandfather, “Greg, don’t get old.”

Yes, constancy and change are the primary threads in the fabric of our existence, but there is a gift from the sea for all who will listen. “The Preacher” in Ecclesiastes teaches that constancy and change are part of the rhythm of life (1:5-9; 3:1-8). And the sea and ocean teach us that there is a place of stillness where all things come together. When it comes to “life under the sun,” there is no place on this planet to better see, hear, and feel that rhythm.

For all, the sea and the ocean “pour forth speech” (Psa. 19:2) and offer great lessons about serenity.

For the Christian, those lessons are gifts from a loving and Great Artist who gives hope beyond the circle of life. The Christian is anchored for eternity to the “Rock of Ages.” God gives a gift beyond the sea when it is “no more” (Rev. 21:1), which the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism expresses beautifully:

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all of the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto him.”[1]

 

 

[1] Heidelberg Catechism, Modern English Version, 450th Anniversary Edition (Reformed Church in the United States, 2013), 19.


Carpenter | Theologian (cover photo by Ken Larter)