Swimming in the living waters

The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for God has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” Psalm 24: 1-2.

Oil is hemorrhaging and starfish are dying—
dolphins blinded, pelicans lacquered/grounded,
and wide-eyed fish kills suffocated by humanity’s habit for annihilation.
Has God retreated from these waters? Has God pulled away from the brutality—chemically unable to abide in water contaminated this way?
How do we go on, knowing we have set this biocide in motion?
All I can do is conjure questions.
Observations are planets away from anything that helps.
I pray for the spewing to stop. For some force of nature to role a stone over the hole that humanity drilled. I am sick from helplessness.
I am soaked in the death of creation and the poisoning of innocents.

I wrote the poem above in a place away from the ocean—at home in Chapel Hill. I was feeling overcome by grief about the BP oil spill in the Gulf. I found myself questioning God’s presence –like the Psalmists who began their laments with questions about where God could be in the midst of all the suffering they were experiencing. I still feel that sadness, that helplessness, but I am also swimming around in the ocean’s life these last few days and trying to bring these two realities together somehow.

At the beach I swim among migrating rays and spy miniature sand sharks inspecting my submerged feet. I listen to waves crash and feel the pull of magnetic currents. I watch my children frolic and look out to the expanse of ocean. I’ve seen flocks of Pelicans gliding over water looking for fish. I seen them dive bomb into water and come up with lunch. I see egrets, herons, gulls, curlew, and sanderlings.

Do they know what is happening in the waters out there? I wonder how I can look at the water teeming with life and not lament the death the oil is causing—still causing—even as I sit here and enjoy fresh, fecund ocean the way I’ve always known it. I wonder how the oil will ever stop.

This kind of tragedy comes with such intense, hard truth about how we humans operate. There are some easy theological statements to make: we consume too much, we are prideful-not careful, we are self-centered and short-sighted. Those kinds of judgments are easy in a circumstance like this. I am wondering where the redemption is, where the transformation and healing will come in.

Have we been startled enough by how out of control we are in this situation to change our ways? Or has this simply become another political issue to take sides on? Is it about economics now—who will pay and how to “rebuild.”

The loss of commerce is one layer of the tragedy. The deeper layer is that with this oil spill we reveal the truth we have been trying to deny. We are the earth, we are the waters, and we are the rivers and the microbes. We can’t just be sad that animals are dying and about those fishermen who are out of work. We are death, destroyers of the life in which we share.

It reminds me of Robert Oppenheimer when he witnessed the Trinity project and the first detonation of the atomic bomb, the bomb he helped to create. In describing the experience and how he felt he quoted the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” He added, “I guess we all felt that way.” Oppenheimer worked after Los Alamos to create government systems and international agreements that would control and limit nuclear arms. But the bomb he helped create made a hell on earth for cities in Japan.

How will we respond to this crushing truth—the truth of our power and our impotence to control the extent of our own brutality? We are death, destroyers of the life in which we share.

People of many faiths, not just Christians, search for ways to live fully, wisely, compassionately, and faithfully. As a Christian myself, however, I want to especially open myself up to the guidance and wisdom of Christ in this time of truth telling and confession. Can I turn around, repent, receive and embrace the change that Jesus offers in the face of death instead of just blaming BP for all of this? Can I find ways to use the power I do have to hold those directly responsible accountable for what has happened even if it means giving things up that I have grown accustomed to? Can I hold on to the belief that in all things God can work for the good even when I see oil soaked pelicans and hear that their nesting grounds have been completely destroyed?

The earth is God’s and all that is in it. Forgive us, God. Help us.

Swimming in the ocean may be the best way to choose life and embody my connection as immediately as is humanly possible. I heard the CEO of BP went to a yacht race the other day. I wonder if he dove into those cold waters and let himself be tossed around in the waves. Did he see any jumping fish or dive bombing birds? Did he think about the millions of gallons continuing to spew out every day even as he watched boats worth more than whole neighborhoods of homes? I won’t demonize him if he did. He’s human just like any of us. His distortion is from the same gene pool as my own. At the same time, I want to know he’s been on his knees, too, not to adjust the sails on his sailboat, but to pray to God for help.

Could that be the root of all this mess–not being on our knees enough, not realizing that we are completely dependent on all that is and on the creative, creating God who gives us life? Could it be that we have forgotten what truly animates us– that spark of vitality that makes life keep going in the face of death is the same spark that flickers in all that lives?

Words just can’t find adequate description or prescription for what to do now. I will try swimming in the living waters more—and staying close to life. And I’ll add my salted tears to the oceans.



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