Last year I began having coaching conversations with a friend and mentor of mine. In these conversations it became clear that my relationship with water was much more significant than I had ever realized. Water, and more specifically, the shore line, has become a metaphor for so much in my life. The shoreline is where I go when my life feels out of control, or hard. It is where I go to seek clarity and comfort, and where I go to rest and discern when I know a hard decision is ahead. My friend suggested that the shoreline is also a place of invitation, an invitation to change, to progress, to renewal, to hope. So often, my time by the water has been quiet, marked by tears, prayer, and long periods of sitting. However, my friend suggested that the next time I was near water, I do something to ritualize the end of one chapter of my life, and the starting of the next- do something to claim the event, to mark the time…mostly, he suggested that I don’t just sit by the water- he challenged me to GO IN.
It makes me giggle to think about how often I have sat by the water, but not actually gone in. I’ve gone to the beach countless times and come away ignoring the invitation of the water, and looking back, it is hard not to wonder what I have missed by sitting on the shore.
Back in November, we went to Maui, and as part of the trip we decided to go snorkeling. Now, I have gone snorkeling before, but usually I start at the shore and ease in. With this excursion, we took a boat out to open water, and jumped in. No ease, no waiting, just jumping in.
The first time I slid into the water I was reminded of how much I love the ocean- the feeling of weightlessness, and the feeling of something being much bigger than me. This body of water teaming with life and movement, and yet, for our ears, it is quiet. I swam around and truly enjoyed myself- grateful for the chance to be IN water. We got back on the boat and went to a different location, a location that promised turtles and other sea-life, and as I prepared to hop back in the water, I felt a twinge of hesitation. I wasn’t sure why, but the movement of the people around me, and the urging of others to hurry up and get in gave me no time to over think, so into the water I went. As soon as I got in the water, below me I saw a manta raw flying through the water. It swam about 10 feet below me and I immediately became aware of the fact that there were things in the water that were dangerous to me, I had to focus on my breathing a bit more, and remind myself that there were professionals around, making sure we were safe. And after my anxiety subsided, I settled in and was captivated by the manta ray. Its coloring, its grace, and it’s illusiveness…then, as quickly as it was there, it was gone.
There were turtle sightings near by, so I swam over to get a glimpse, and about 5 minutes later, below me was the manta ray again. Twice more the manta ray emerged below me, including coming closer to the surface as I got back on the boat. It felt as if it was dancing with me, inviting me to join it in the grace-filled movement that being under water provides. As we headed back to shore on the boat, I realized I would have missed all of that if I hadn’t actually gotten in the water. Point taken, universe!
I wonder sometimes what else we miss when we stand at the shoreline of life. Recently I was introduced to Kevin Garcia’s Podcast A Tiny Revolution and in the episode I happened upon, he was talking with an author about embracing who we are and who God has created us to be…and the fact that God delights in us, not in spite of who we are and what we have done, but BECAUSE of who we are. He asserted that Jesus embodies a “because of” kind of love and acceptance.
There is an entire library of blog posts I could write about that, but what I want to focus on here is that during this conversation, Kevin mentioned the song “Oceans” by Hillsong. This is a song that is sung in a lot of churches, and can be heard frequently played on Christian Radio stations. It is a beautiful song that offers a prayer as the bridge- the prayer says “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the water, wherever you would lead me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith with be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” Kevin talked about how this prayer is really revolutionary. In my opinion it is right up there with the whole “thy will be done” part of the Lord’s prayer. And, Kevin pointed out, it reclaims that truth that while there may be churches, institutions, people, places that don’t want us, there is a GOD who very much wants us, loves us, and hopes to be in relationship with us. We just need to get in the water- trusting that God will be with us, and show us things beyond what we could even imagine. A Holy Adventure.
And if that podcast wasn’t reminder enough for me to look at the shoreline of my life and take steps toward getting in the water, today I began reading a book about leadership and the ways that the church is in need of new models that will embrace the past, but also challenge the institution to take steps forward. The book starts with a story from the Midrash, interpretive stories not found in Biblical texts, but that offer rich connections and illuminations to the Hebrew scriptures. This story added context to the story of the Israelites as they came to the banks of the Red Sea during the Exodus. It tells of the leaders being anxious about what to do- faced with death if they lead their people into the water, and faced with death if they did not find a way to escape the Egyptians closing in behind them. The leaders were talking and talking, and nothing was changing or getting done, so the Midrash tells of one leader remembering the promises of God to Moses- the promises of deliverance and protection- and with great faith in those promises- this leader began to walk into the water. Up to his ankles, his calves, his waist, his chest, and just about the time that his nose would have gone under water, the waters parted and the way was made clear. The way was made clear, and God’s promises were fulfilled, once someone was willing to get in the water.
It feels like the universe is inviting me into the water- maybe to remember my baptism- maybe to remember the promises God has made to me and the world- or maybe to see a new way, or new things, that I can’t imagine on my own. I am not sure what is ahead, and I have lots of questions with very few answers, but I know it feels like my time on the shore is ending, and the call forward is into the water. I am excited and nervous about this- mostly because it is a lot of unknowns, and will require a lot of waiting (and wading), but the beauty of the water is that it always finds the shore again. So while I venture out of my comfort zone and follow the call to take steps toward swimming, I am comforted knowing the shore is never far, at least not today.
So friends, who wants to go swimming?
Peace to you all, today.