On the Times and Tides of Life
Opening Statement: The Temple of Majesty
The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet none of us truly sees it… You will never enjoy the world aright until the sea itself flows through your veins, until you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars…. Until your spirit fills the whole world and that you remember how recently you were made , how wonderful that you came into this world, and that you are to rejoice in each morning as your place for today’s glory….
Reading: from ” Gifts from the Sea”
Is there not a hint of deeper understanding in the acceptance of the eternal ebb and flow of life? … For the life of our emotions and of our relationships are intermittent. When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility …. We seem to have such little faith in the ebb and flow of life, love, of all our relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide, and we resist the ebb. We are afraid that love will be lost and never return. We try to insist on permanency… But only continuity that is truly possible in life, as in love, is found in freedom.
How can one learn to live through the ebb tides of one’s existence? It is easier to understand here, on the beach, where the breathlessly still reveal another life below the level which we mortals can reach; … That each cycle of the tide is valid; whatever recedes will eternally return.”
Alan Watt’s Journal
“[Ever since I could remember, the smell, the sound, and the motion of the sea has been pure magic… Even in those times when I need to ‘get away from it all,’ and as the Chinese poets puts it, ” wash all the wrongs of life from my pores,” there was nothing better than to find a rock, or walk, or just sit with the seas and the skies… Although the rhythm of the seas beats out a certain kind of time, it is neither clock time nor is it calendar time. It has none of that kind of urgency. It is timeless time. It in concert with the time of the universe, and that every lapping wave can be synchronized with each in breath and out breath, breathing as we do, the waves into our very being.]”
There are times in our lives where the ebb and flow of our feelings and experiences ungulate like the rhythmic coming and going of the seas, sometimes bringing peace to our souls, and other times being the harbingers of a dramatic, life-altering experience.
Life flows…. And never stops…. Even when death is experienced on one level, it is but a change that the tides in their rhythmic graces supply to us; to teach us, to console, to inspire, to accompany us throughout all the motions and movements of our hearts….
Life flows onward and its capacity for teaching us about love and life never stops… While it might seem to pause or even freeze in our hearts and minds, it is always flowing in us … While we can build dams, barriers, and try to place obstacles in our hearts and minds, there is no place that can sustain, no way to resist the surges and tides of life, and because it is relentlessly gracious, it is those same rhythms that connect us and put us into each others arms, the same waves of emotions and sensitivities that flow through us and outward to every person we see and meet….
We all come from the womb of life, the ocean, and our connections to it are primal, often unconscious, and yet never less than real and there is always a part of our being that will affirm that connection and how being in touch with the ebb and flow of those waves gives us endurance, hope….
We all flow from the same source- the same oceanic feeling, the same fluid soul …. the oceans do not know human differences, nor will the waves accept human vanities and peculiar ways we seek to separate or distance ourselves…. The salt, the sand, the winds, and the feel are universal…. Gracious…. Even holy for us….
As John Muir put it, “[ God does not appear in a random world, or flow through sometimes narrow chinks or is present only to chosen places, races, and situations…. But God flows in a grand, universal and undivided currents and it saturates us all….]”
The times when the ocean has meant a lot in my life are quite diverse, and yet, I feel they are instructive because they give me a map of human experience and emotion that I would have never designed, yet, strangely, have experienced as a deep part of my soul….
They are poignant moments and there are tragic ones…. Times when I knew that my life felt lost, and times when I almost lost my life…. Tides when my emotions were filled and overflowing with optimism, and times and tides when I was more empty than a small tide pool at lowest tide ….
Among the memories that stand out I have chosen two….. For their contrast and for their intensity, to share with you the depth of emotion that the oceans of the heart can contain….
When I was married, I lived along the Atlantic ocean, first near Plymouth, MA., and then later near Glouscester up on the North Shore….
Often, my wife and I would take a break from ministry and art to take a walk on the beach- time to reflect, pray, discuss the mundane and the metaphysical, and just keep company with each other’s spirits….
Those times of respite and relationship are times that I sorely miss,
but as I reflect back on them, I am filled with a little remorse, and much gratitude… So even though I am now alone, I feel that it is important to have those kinds of time together… Too often we can be too busy, or not see that just because there is not a screaming need to response, that we are in need of one another’s company…. And yes, I hope that I will find another partner …. Someone to walk the beaches with me again….
The second was a turning point in my ministry where I realized how important churches and clergy can be to its city or community. I realized from this experience that my mission is to be an open, available resource for people who did not think or feel along the ordinary or status quo lines, but that a liberal church exists to serve the entire community of the unchurched, who, for reasons easy to understand, have not either found us, or know that we exist…. And it is not until there is a need for celebration, or in this case, a time of profound crisis and sadness, that they discover the importance of a community like ours.
About fifteen years ago, I was the minister for a bereaved family. It was a high profile murder case where I had to not only minister to the family but act as a protective screen from the national media that was covering the tragedy. I walking along a dock near my home, when my eyes focused on a poster stapled to dock pillion…. It had the face of a young woman on it and the request that if anyone had seen her to notify the police or the family…. I had an instant flash of recognition that somehow I would be directly involved with this person, yet I did not know how or why…..
When I returned home, I received a call from my church sexton whose voice was quivering…. He said that a family had come to the church looking for a minister and could I come down to talk with them…. I said of course I would…. When I arrived the family members were already inside the church, and I went over to welcome them…. They began telling me the story of their wife/sister/daughter who was missing and that they had suspected was murdered two weeks before… Of course, it was the same women whose picture I saw on the pole earlier in the day….
It seems as if she was last seen accepting a boat ride from a work colleague…. Little did we know that this innocent act of trust would have such gruesome results.
I was asked to provide the family with two memorial services….
The first I more private one for the neighbors and friends of the woman…. The family lived in a little alcove of homes near the water in Salem Ma, and she was a well known person in community affairs from working with the children to environmental protection…. When I arrived, 300 people were there…. all crowding onto a little spit of beach to say good bye to a friend…
The personal irony for me was that just four hours before, I presided over a Sufi wedding in the church- a joyous almost raucous event of celebration, energy and love! What an emotional seesaw it was for me….
The memorial was a touching tribute to the impact of one life on a community… It had contained reflections from family and friends, which I concluded by finishing my remarks with passing a wreath of flowers around the crowd before I took it to the ocean and cast it into the sea…
Two days later, the public memorial was a dramatic gathering….
The church I served had seats for 400, but there was standing room only, and probably 700 in the sanctuary…. I felt compelled to keep the photographers out of the service, and to keep the cameras away from the family during the service…. Again, very poignant thoughts and words, some of which I have read for you this morning….
It was the turning point of the ocean, a turning point for my ministry… That I was called to be the minister to thousands who shared in this experience of loss, the betrayal of trust, and to be involved in trying to reconcile the worse and the best of human natures ….
From that time on,
I realized that my ministry has to be to everybody, and anybody…. And that the call to ministry was like the call of the oceans, to be there and to offer that solace and hope during all the times and tides of our lives….