‘Your commands are my chart and guide. I long for your instructions more than I can tell.’ (Psalm 119:19-20 TLB)
Recently, I came across a quote from Paul Tillich, a Lutheran Protestant theologian, that caught my attention.
The weeks and, later, months that I spent by the sea every year from the time I was eight were even more important for my life and work. The experience of the infinite bordering on the finite … supplied my imagination with a symbol that gave substance to my emotions and creativity to my thought… Many of my ideas were conceived in the open and much of my writing done among trees or by the sea. — On the Boundary: An Autobiographical Sketch
It resonated with my own early experiences as the sea was always part of my early life. Images of the sea have continued to extend my spiritual experiences in both scope and depth throughout my life. As I write am I looking out at the sea enjoying the natural calmness it displays currently.
The sea has always been near and special to me. For over 50 years our family had a holiday house above a small cove that overlooked the sea. When we moved away from home, on many occasions we returned during our holidays and enjoyed the serene beauty of the waves as they rolled in below.
This is a scene that I would return back to in the practice of meditating on the presence of God’s spirit. There in the stillness of an empty beach, the cycles of the tide, the activity of the wind and waves, and the vastness of the ocean spanning beyond the horizon.
This vastness became a powerful symbol in my own spiritual development and relationship with God. It gave me the space for my reflections as God cannot be reduced to a tangible entity, a person, or even a supernatural thing. Like the personal metaphors used in scripture the images of the sea gave me relational symbol to begin to understand God – His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience – a God that is all-powerful, all-knowing and is everywhere – a God without limitations.
Sitting alone looking at the sea or walking around the coastline are moments where God’s presence is both personal and all-encompassing of a world larger than I could imagine. It helped me develop a perspective that sought to be inclusive beyond my experience, perhaps initiated by a familiarity with a horizon extending beyond my eyesight in both breadth and extent.
The ocean has been important in my current spiritual season. As I have launched into the deep waters of silence, meditation, contemplation and prayer I found it important to see where I was pointing the bow of the ship. This vast ocean in front of me could take me many places beyond the horizon and into the unknown. This created for me an expectation of adventure but at the same time I knew the deep waters I was setting out into had to be according to the chart the Lord had planned and prepared.
Each time I sensed the Lord urging me to take a journey, my mind claims the promise He gave me many years ago when I took my first adventure, my call to full-time ministry. ‘I am but a pilgrim here on earth: how I need a map—and your commands are my chart and guide. I long for your instructions more than I can tell.’ (Psalm 119:19-20 TLB).
I quickly learnt that once the bow of a ship is pointed in a certain direction it takes a long time and a lot of effort to turn the ship around if we are on the wrong course.
But there something I notice as we steam out of port. There is a captain, a pilot to guide us. We can each tell of a personal encounter with the captain, for each has received a personal call. He found us and invited us to follow Him. Our faith was born at the sight of his unfailing love and grace, and so we went.
The captain of the ship not only guides us in safe waters, He even has control over the tumultuous waters. Wherever we are, whenever we are going through a tough time, we have a pilot who can intervene on our behalf. The great benefit to living in the Kingdom of God is that we will never sink, we will never drown as the storms of life drag us down, as we live by faith in Jesus Christ.
And there is one last image as I see a ship sail over the horizon. God’s Holy Spirit takes us to the place where God would have us go for his honour and glory.