Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Too Am Part of That Ocean


I Too Am Part of That Ocean

         With angry moans the fierce old mother incessantly moaning,
          On the sands of Paumanok’s shore gray and rustling,
          My own songs awaked from that hour,
          And with them the key, the word up from the waves,
          The word of the sweetest song and all songs,
          That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
          (Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet garments,          bending aside,)
          The sea whisper’d me.”

    I think of Walt Whitman as a poet of urban life, but rereading him this week I found powerful ocean images. In this selection from “Out or the cradle endlessly rocking” he calls his birthplace Long Island by its Native American name, Paumanok." Off its “fish-shaped” shore the sea moans and whispers, awakening his poet voice and song, “the word up from the waves.”

In another poem, “Out of the rolling ocean the crowd,” a city crowd feels to Whitman like a rolling ocean, with innumerable drops/people.  As he brushes up against them he feels both the crowd’s cohesion and his separation from it, its “great rondure” and “us diverse.” 

        “Out of the rolling ocean the crowd came a drop gently to me, 
        Whispering, ‘I love you, before long I die, 
        I have travell’d a long way merely to look on you to touch you, 
        For I could not die till I once look’d on you, 
        For I fear’d I might afterward lose you.’

       “Now we have met, we have look’d, we are safe, 
       Return in peace to the ocean my love, 
       I too am part of that ocean, my love, we are not so much separated, 
       Behold the great rondure, the cohesion of all, how perfect! 
       But as for me, for you, the irresistible sea is to separate us, 
       As for an hour carrying us diverse, yet cannot carry us diverse forever; 
       Be not impatient – a little space – know you I salute the air, the ocean and the        land, 
       Every day at sundown for your dear sake, my love.”

I share that feeling, the paradox of separation and cohesion, drop and ocean.  But as Whitman says, be not impatient, we are not separate forever. 

Like him, I salute the air, the ocean and the land, every day at sundown, for your dear sake, my love.
 _________

   This photo by Douglas Croft of a surfer at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz won this year’s “Get Into Your National Marine Sanctuary” photo contest.  Somehow it reminds me of Whitman’s moaning, fierce old mother sea and the paradox of separation and cohesion.  Come on our Blue Theology service trips and pilgrimages on Monterey Bay to hear ocean moans and whispers.  Bluetheology.com.  I post these Blue Theology Tide-ings each Wednesday, here and at www.bluetheologytideings.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Nature Shrieks, Again

Nature Shrieks, Again

Fire is shrieking again in California.

Edvard Munch titled this painting in German “Der Schrei der Natur,” “The Scream of Nature.”  In Norwegian he called it “Skrik,” meaning “shriek,” a more pained and searing sound than what we usually call “The Scream.”

The horrific fires burning this week in Northern California bring back sad and scary memories for me of the Soberanes wildfire that burned all last summer in my neighborhood and the Los Padres Forest, 140,000 acres, at that time the most expensive wildfire in US history.  This week’s wine country fires could also burn for months.  Already there are far more fatalities and structures destroyed. 

Here’s a rewrite of my column from last August, days after we had been finally allowed back into our house.  We could see where the fire had been stopped just a couple hundred yards away. 

Nature Shrieks

A therapist neighbor says we are a community of both relief and grief.  Some of us are home, cleaning up fire gel on the outside and smoke on the inside.  But others are sifting through the blackened debris of their houses and their lives. 

Farther south, the fire still burns, and people in Big Sur still wait and watch. 

And listen. For the roar of fire.

It’s not just Edvard Munch who hears the shrieks of nature.

The wise “Earth Bible” series offers six “Ecojustice Principles.”  One is the Principle of Voice: “Earth is a subject capable of raising its Voice in celebration and against injustice.”

Nature makes all kinds of noises.  Deep calls to deep.  All creation is groaning as in childbirth.  

But the noise I’m hearing from this fire and seeing in this painting is a shriek of pain.   We humans treat nature as an object, not a subject.  We stab the landscape with the destructive forces of climate change, drought, overpopulation, a careless and cruel attitude of ownership and objectification.  (I’m talking about you, hikers who started the fire, but we’ve all set the dry stage for worldwide wildfires.)

This fire is a shriek of pain from the land.

Munch wrote about this painting, “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Nature is loud and has something to say.  Sometimes the trees of the field clap their hands in joy.  But today to me she sounds sad and mad. 

I usually write in these weekly posts about the ocean.  It too can be noisy and destructive, especially when amplified by climate “change.”   Scientists now call it “climate chaos,” instead of “warming” or even “change.”  No denying the chaos of raging hurricanes and ravaging fires.  Nature’s voice is loud these days, and she’s screaming at us, a cry of pain, a shriek.


On our Blue Theology retreats and service projects we listen for the voice of the coasts and ocean, and we share how people of faith are working to heal our blue home from climate chaos.  Bluetheology.com.  I post every Wednesday here and on Facebook.