In November of 1820, a massive sperm whale intentionally slammed into the whaling ship Essex. In a matter of hours, the 238 ton ship was sunk, by a single whale. The crew of the Essex, a total of twenty-one, survived in the smaller whaleboats used to ride out and harpoon whales to extract oil and blubber. When the whale hit their ship, it had been over a year since they’d set sail on a routine voyage, none of them anticipating what would happen before the few survivors reached their home shores again.
The events of that voyage would be the inspiration for one of the world’s most well known novels, Moby Dick. The book by Herman Melville was published in 1851. Since it’s earliest days, people have mixed feelings towards the novel. R. C. Sproul believed it to be the finest work of literature in the world. Others dismiss it as a snooze fest. I must confess, I haven’t read it yet, but I plan on it, because I love the ocean.
The ocean has always fascinated me. It has also long been one of my biggest fears. I ache to go and see it, but fear dipping my toes into it’s waters. I’ve read every book I could get my hands on about the sinking of the Titanic and promised myself each time I would never go on a cruise. I’ve watched documentaries about whales and been mesmerized by their vast beauty. I’ve read accounts of shark attacks on the coasts, making a mental note to never take any children I might have in the future to the beach. I’ve listened to dolphins sing and yearned to reach out and touch their smooth skin. I’ve been conflicted by the ocean, on every front.
One of the only things in this world that still feels utterly wild is the ocean, and I think that’s why it scares me so much. But I think that wild incomprehensibility is also what grabs hold of my attention and keeps me turning to look back at it. Most of the creatures that reside beneath it’s waves will never see a human. There are countries upon countries worth of geological wonders that we will never be able to tread. There is so much beauty we will simply never be able to wrap our minds around. So much beauty. So much uncertainty. So much I cannot understand.
Over the last few months, I’ve thought often about the ocean, and this complex relationship I have with it. On the one hand, my inability to control and understand it terrifies me. On the other, the very same reality causes me to love and marvel at it.
We are a people that demand explanation. We demand understanding. We demand control. When we encounter things like the ocean, we feel keenly a sense of our smallness, because there is no control.
Like the ocean, there are a great many things about life that we cannot comprehend. I was recently on a trip to visit my grandparents in Arkansas. While on the trip, my Mimi and I spent a few afternoons watching the final episodes of This Is Us. (Side note: I had not seen the rest of the series, so coming in on the end was a wild ride.)
We sat there in our recliners, weeping, as we watched a well loved matriarch slip from this world, her family around her. At the same time, her granddaughter was celebrating the coming arrival of her first child. As viewers you can’t help wrestling to hold both emotions in the same hand. Grief and celebration, can they go hand in hand? One character asks the question we all are wondering, “Is this right? This dichotomy?”
On another day during the same trip, we went to an estate sale together. We walked the halls of an old house, turning over books and teacups, commenting on their beauty, wondering what year they were originally purchased. People were laughing as they talked, shuffling cash out of their wallets to pay for an item they’d been hoping to find for ages. The things in this house that had been used and loved were being transferred to new hands, new homes, new stories. It was exciting and beautiful. Yet, at the same time, somewhere in the world, hearts were hurting because the time for their need in this home was over.
We can’t wrap our little minds around the fact that while one person is slipping out of this world, another is slipping in. We don’t know how to think about time, the way it moves forward, and our inability to control it. Yet, it’s beauty leaves us speechless. Our hearts swell in ways we never could’ve imagined when we see that new baby, smell their soft skin, and kiss their fuzzy head. We cry when a bride walks down the aisle, and we cry when an old woman is laid in her casket, because we cannot understand how the goodness of one and the pain of another are supposed to fit together.
We stand at the shore of this ocean of time, and we marvel at its stores of beauty, while fearing what it may take in it’s next wave.
Indeed. What a dichotomy.
All summer I have thought deeply, maybe too deeply, about these things and I have not figured out how they all fit together. My mind cannot comprehend how it is that time is both the bringer of marvels and the thief of all we once marveled at. But I have learned to hold tightly to the hand of the One whom the winds and waves of the ocean, and of time, obey.
The ocean is not something I will ever understand or control. I will be terrified by the devastation it is capable of, and in awe of the beauty it washes ashore. Time is the same. We live everyday unsure what the next moment holds. Until heaven, we will grieve deeply the sorrows time brings, and simultaneously marvel at the eucatastrophes in between. We can spend our days in a frenzied effort to understand such dichotomies, or we can let them point us to Christ. Such things do not boggle Him. He is after all, the King born a servant, and the man who gave us life through His death. The mysteries in our hands have answers safely kept in His.
What a comfort.