The Sea of Theology: a Reflection

William Loader

Deep into the stillness, the unfathomable ocean,
the blue, the green, the turquoise, fading into the shadowy unknown,
unseen beneath the waves, the raging foam
or the soft, gentle shimmer of the calm sea,
deep into the stillness, the dark and generous unknown,
we ponder the heart of the divine.
Those hands that stroke the shore,
the surging forward, the falling back,
the rhythmic lapping or the downright assault
which pounds the sand and in persistence
moves meters of crushed shells and stone
to expose jutting rocks or hidden treasures long unseen,
those hands invite us, withdraw from us,
abandoning us, luring us,
to embrace the vastness of the unending waters
or just to sport playfully on its edges,
as we have time, as we have space,
as we have courage.

It’s nice to pick up shells,
to find new colours, patterns, unusual shapes,
to discover washed driftwood
amid the seaweed wrenched from its hold
and the flotsam of boats and random waste.
There’s room for the child in us
to build sand castles,
make our waterways,
or just lie back, warmed by the sun and
refreshed by the hushing rolls of the surf.

This sea has torn apart great ships.
This sea has built mountains of terror,
moving mountains, mountains falling upon us.
This sea has sucked into it the gasping of drowning men and women.
This sea has frozen life from limb and
turned living bodies to cadavers.

This sea smiles its embrace,
laps its goodness to all,
to every shore, rich, barren, beautiful, ugly,
whole, broken, smooth, rockstrewn,
yet hides an inconstancy
that defies prediction,
a depth that is beyond reach,
a mystery still becoming.

Wonder at the sea,
look out in awe,
the watered holiness of the divine
suspended in a moving pulsating symbol
of all that is, of all that God is.
It is there for us, for us all.

Theology is for all.
The sea is for all;
a theological encyclopedia for the infant and the scholar alike,
where some can surf the waves, but all can pray,
where some can build boats, launch great ships,
but all can feel the swell,
know the sound of the coming and the going,
the coming and the going,
where all can learn and teach the theology
of sand castles and salted air.

The one who stills the sea rages up a storm
the one who walks the water plummets to the depths.
The one who rides triumphant o’er the waves
is mauled by savagery upon a cross floating in cruel currents
which will have their way.

Yet we have bottled messages from afar,
relics of two thousand years of wisdom and folly,
divine words to unpack on the shore,
stories to tell, dreams to dream,
madnesses to affirm,
which defy hopelessness and death,
and summon us to hear the message of the sea.

Why can’t we hear the raging?
Why can’t we hear the silence?
The Spirit is coming and going.
The Spirit is coming and going
upon the sands, upon the rocks, lapping our feet,
inviting us to mystery,
touching us with the wonder and the awe of the deep.

The Spirit is coming and going
The Spirit is coming and going
The Spirit is coming and going …..

(written for the induction of my colleague Revd Dr Nancy Victorin-Vangerud as Principal of the Perth Theological Hall, 5 October, 2002)