A Move Inland
One day you wake up, shake your head and wonder how you ever got here. And once oriented, you recognize you’ve awakened into a bad dream. You want to go to sleep again. How did it come to this?
I remember the romantic days of dating the ministry. Invitations dared me to bow and give my all to the adventure of following and serving Jesus. There were long wonderful hours of praying and seeking God, constant dreams of doing the heroic for Him. First sermons, new responsibilities—ministry was magic!
The years of God-study were a mixture of diving to the depths of the ocean and sailing its surface. Discovering the vastness of it, yet knowing its enthralling borders alone: Being found powerless in the throws of its surf, and the rip of its tide. Overwhelmed in the glory of it all, surrender was the only option.
But ministry is a move inland, a weekly recitation about the great seas and feeling nostalgic about the surf, while sitting in the mud by a farm pond. Ministry, we soon discover, is not so much a bracing daily visit to the shore. It’s more of a competition to accumulate the largest desert fleet of watercraft and the most loyal cruise customers. Weekly orations about the glories of the ocean soon leave us wondering if it still remains, somewhere beyond all the workshops, magazines, growth conferences—some place toward the coast where the maps say the land is supposed to end.
When I first took a pastorate, and began to shepherd a people, I remembered the route to the sea. I’d rise early and stay up late in order to travel to the place where gulls would scream, and the surf would splash and rush its bitter cold against my hot dry skin. I’d dive and swim and play. I’d pull on goggles to look beneath and grab a board to ride on top. A sunset cruise would cause my heart to fall in love again. Watching a fisherman unload his catch never failed to amaze: the variety of the catch, the majesty and mystery! Oh, and the sudden winds, and slashing storms, and pounding rain, and running away to escape the adventurous dangers of this God.
There is a limit to how well a soul can speak of the ocean, when it sees the ocean no more. When some folks back home prefer pilgrim songs and others pirate tunes, you work to balance the ship. And once, weekly ventures to the sea required the simplest of boats to gather the travelers. Now, we finance, cruise ships and staff them for entertainment and turn in the numbers of how many show-up in the desert… to hear of the ocean… and describe it as best they can… as a muddy pond where cattle drink, and a good cast reaches from one bank to the other.
O, how I long for the sea again. A pond can get you wet—but few loose their lives in it, or find their living in it. Few paint it’s sunsets or dream of the ripples that reach its edge when a catfish stirs the surface.
And so, I tell myself to go to the sea. Take the time, step away from the ship long enough to smell salt air, burn my brow and hear the gulls. And maybe once I’ve gone, I could again bring good enough invitations to the coast, to a people who have settled for farm ponds: Or who, thanks to my lost memories, have heard that’s all that ever was.
After writing this journal entry on July 25, 2007, my heart began to recall a poem I’d memorized as a child. I found it online. And the wild longing for escape defines the longing of my soul so well.
By John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sails shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the see again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.