Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How to Find Quiet at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

How to Find Quiet at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

“You said this would be a ‘spiritual tour’ of the Aquarium but it is so noisy.” “Are there days when children aren’t allowed at the Aquarium?” “I’m exhausted by all the people here.” 

I promise the folks who come on Blue Theology service trips and pilgrimages that we will have a “spiritual tour” of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but at 2 million visitors a year, is that possible?  Don’t we need quiet and a little personal space to be “spiritual?”

Yes, and no.  People are different.  Some folks feel most connected to God in a crowd, like a massive church service, or with noise and action, like the March for the Ocean I went on in Washington DC.  God is there!  (I understand, but I don’t like the anti-children attitude of many guests.)

Yet silence and space can help us find deep spiritual peace.  As a 20-year volunteer guide, I can turn you on to a few hidden quiet places and some spiritual practices that can help a visit to the Aquarium be less of a madhouse.

I wrote last week about the spiritual practice of praying ocean icons in front of the Aquarium’s small round windows.  I will continue this theme for a few weeks in these Wednesday posts, to motivate me to complete my brochure or app on “How to Have a Spiritual Visit to the Aquarium.” 

Please share with me your own spiritual experiences there, or ideas that would help the Aquarium meet your spiritual needs.  (And remember that I love to give tours, and I can get a fair number of folks in free – be in touch!) 

Today – some ideas for a quiet visit. 

-Come right at opening (9:30/10am depending on the season) and go right to the big or deep places that move you – Open Sea million-gallon tank, jellies, octopus, before others get there.
-Stay late (closes at 5/6pm).  Families often bail after lunch.
-Come on a weekday.  Or January – empty.
-Go up to the third floor – rarely are folks there because not so much to see, but there is a sweet little deck, and a view of the top of the big Kelp Forest exhibit.  Once I saw a father holding a little toddler there, staring at the gentle pump that makes the ocean surge in that exhibit, and I asked if they needed help finding anything, and he said “No thanks.   We just needed a little break from the noise and people, to calm down.  We like this spot.”  I left them in peace.  (We guides can be too talkative.  The staff has tried to teach us that sometimes the greatest interpretation is just to stand and watch in awe.)
-Find other hidey-holes if only for a breather: The Open Sea balcony, the benches behind the stairs to Splash Zone (pictured,)  various little hidden decks.  Few people at any of those places, even on a popular day.
-When there is a feeding scheduled, resist the lure of the crowded spectacle, and go somewhere else, take the road less traveled.
-When a group of school kids approaches, just stand still and let them rush through like a school of fish.  Don’t try to avoid or outrun them, just pretend they are sardines and let them swim on past.  It happens very fast and they are gone.
-Just slow down.  Stop and read the inspiring quotations.  Sit on a bench in the sun or the dark and close your eyes and let the murmur of folks be a wave of compassion. 
-You can always get your hand stamped and go outside, take a walk on the recreation trail and see the harbor seal beach next door and then come back later.  And compared to Cannery Row, the Aquarium is downright silent!
_____________ – come for the excitement, stay for the quiet – we will help that happen.  I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Praying the Ocean Icons

Praying the Ocean Icons

I’m writing a brochure (maybe an app?) called "How to Have a Quiet Spiritual Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium."  I've already collected tips on where to find places to sit in the dark and pray ("Pretend the seat in the cephalopods exhibit is a prayer bench and meditate on the octopus.")  Also a list of all the inspiring wall quotations ("Read the Thoreau quotation – ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world’ -  several times and ask God to bless and keep the wildness in the sea and the wildness in your soul.")

Now I'm locating "icons" to venerate.  Icons are small intense holy paintings that many people include in their spiritual practice by contemplating them long and intently, not for their artistic value, but as “doors between this world and another, between humankind and God,” as one author puts it.  To contemplate an icon is “to gaze into heaven.”  Such images are “visual prompts for our prayers.”

This Kelp Forest round window is a “visual prayer prompt,” helping this young worshipper gaze into heaven, and opening for her the door to another world.  When I saw this medieval Italian painting of the Creation at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC I experienced a new heaven and earth.  Note how the earth is round and blue.

The writer of Colossians calls Christ the “icon,” the visible image of the invisible God.  A door, a prompt.  I call these blue circles “icons of paradise.”

Visit our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove for an individual retreat or a group learning/serving trip about ocean stewardship and spirituality.  Icons galore.
I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and at

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Blues

The Blues

“Rhapsody in Blue,” 1924.  “Kind of Blue,” 1945.  “Blue,” 1971.  20th century music is blue, a heart and soul sound from a place as deep and dark as the ocean.  George Gershwin, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell all knew sorrow as well as success, baring and sharing their blue souls for all the world to hear.

This is my fourth and last weekly post on “The Color Blue in Art and Culture.”  (You can look back for my 3 previous blue art posts: the Egyptian blue faience bowl, Botticelli and Vermeer’s ultramarine, Hokusai and Van Gogh’s Prussian Blue.) 

Today we push Play, close our eyes and open our ears to the sad, haunting, emotional sound we call the Blues.

As Minister for Blue Theology, (authorized by the United Church of Christ to connect faith communities and ocean stewardship and spirituality) I usually preach and teach and write about sea stars and epiphanies, Easter (harbor) seals, ocean upwelling and the Holy Spirit.  But these recent posts about blue art have touched me and readers in deep blue ways and reminded us that the ocean’s spell and spirit have a lot to do with its magical color, blue.

I am no painter nor musician, just an amateur fan.  It’s a bit easier to write about painting than music, an even more foreign language.  I have strong emotional connections and memories with each of these albums, and of hearing Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell in person.   What are your deep blue connections with these works of genius?

There is much speculation about the source and meaning of the words “the blues.”  An early blues singer, Charlotte Forten said you can’t sing the blues without a “full heart and a troubled spirit.”  A “blue note” in musicology is lower and flatter and frees up the player from the traditional scale. 

There are some good stories about how each of these three albums was conceived and named.  Gershwin composed the Rhapsody in five weeks, first on a train, in whose “rattley-bang, I heard a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” Davis revolutionized jazz with modality, no chords.  He said, “No chords gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever.”  Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” well, that is the soundtrack of my college years.   I spent an impoverished summer of 1971 in NYC with only five albums, and one was Blue, and we played it over and over and over.

Blue Theology?  What makes music and the ocean blue?  Depth, mystery, emotion, low, flat, freedom, space, go on forever.  Like the blues, the ocean is full and can be trouble.

Sometimes when I say I do “Blue Theology” people think I mean “Sad Theology.”  No, no, the ocean, I insist.  But there are wet tears in the ocean, moans in the mist, depression between waves, a foggy lullaby. 

Hear all these ocean moans in Joni’s lyrics.  Don’t be afraid to be blue.  You can make it through these waves.

Blue songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away.

Hey Blue, here is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in

Well there’re so many sinking now
You’ve got to keep thinking
You can make it through these waves
Acid, booze, and ass
Needles, guns and grass
Lots of laughs, lots of laughs

Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go
Well I don’t think so
But I’m gonna take a look around it though
Blue I love you

Blue here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me.

We were just talking about the ocean’s voice with our last Blue Theology youth group of the summer, from the fabulous United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis.  The ocean cries and moans and laughs and sings.  Come hear her any time of year at our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove.  I post these “Tide-ings” every Wednesday here and at