Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Mind, Blue Mind

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Mind, Blue Mind

“I was really nervous at my first appointment with my new doctor.  There in her waiting room was a huge beautiful fish tank.   She examined me and took my vital signs.  Then she told me to go back to the waiting room and look at the fish.  When she took my blood pressure and heart rate again, they were all lower.  Now I go early to my appointments. And I have an aquarium at home.”

I heard this story from a ministry colleague as we walked through the “Viva Baja!” exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and looked at the colorful tropical fish and coral.  The fish reminded him of his doctor, his improved health, his reduced stress. 

Researchers at the University of Exeter set out to prove the urban legend that doctors and dentists have fish tanks to reduce patient stress.  At the UK’s National Marine Aquarium they wired up 111 research subjects and had them stare at a massive tank as it was slowly restocked after some repair.  First day there was just water and sea weed.  The subject’s stress rates lowered just a bit.  Then as more fish over several days were added to the tank the subjects heart and blood pressure dropped further.  The more fish, and more diversity, the lower the rates.  

One researcher said, “In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation.”

I’ve read about other such studies in neuroscientist Wallace J. Nichols’ fascinating book “Blue Mind: How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do.”  He contrasts “Red Mind,” our all too common state of being edgy, stressed, fearful, in anger and despair, with “Blue Mind,” a sense of calm, peacefulness, creativity and healing. 

I’m working on a brochure for our Blue Theology Mission Station to help people who come with us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium have a more “Blue Mindful” experience – help finding the quiet oases of calm, where to notice the inspiring wall quotations, how to sit and stare at a tank and lower your blood pressure, ways to pray there even on a busy day.  Suggestions welcome! 

“Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.”  John Muir

Come lower your blood pressure with us on a youth mission trip or adult pilgrimage at the Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove.  I post these devotional invitations each Wednesday here and at  My new longer, more scientific column on the Seven Ocean Literacy Principles is at This week’s it’s about weather.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

To See a World in a Grain of Sand

To See a World in a Grain of Sand

Why does it feel so fantastic to walk barefoot on a sandy beach?

I strolled along bright white Carmel Beach recently and my toes felt so good I thought they would burst into song!  My toes are alive, with the sound of sand grains, la la la la.

(That’s my metaphor for happy sandy feet - singing.  Sometimes we say that sand itself sings, when the wind blows across it.  My toes, and the beach, a sand choir!)

When youth and adults come on retreat to our Blue Theology Mission Station, one of our wisest teachers is sand:

-Sand between our toes.
-Sand left clean after we do a beach clean-up.
-Sand crabs, about which we collect data for a citizen science project on climate change.
-Sand dunes happy to have non-native plants removed and native plants restored.
-Sand images in the haikus we write with our resident poet.
-More sand between our toes.  Also in our hair.

Yes, to be a Blue Theologian is to be an “arenophile,” which means a sand lover. Areno is Latin for sand, phile means lover.  Areno, like arena?  Turns out the Romans called those big arena amphitheaters “sand places,” a big sand box, because they used sand to mop up the blood of gladiators, Christians and lions.

Yes, sand is good for mopping things up.  Just ask flood victims.  Sand also provides traction; sand on an icy road.  Sometimes God acts like sand: absorbing hurt, slowing us down, helping us be safe.

I like how sand preaches to us of mystery and paradox.  Sand shifts and blows and changes a landscape overnight. One grain is so tiny, but it’s usually sitting there next to billions and billions of other grains.  It’s a rock, but it feels so soft underfoot.  (Another fun sand fact; at a gravel yard, like my regular haunt Granite Rock in Seaside, sand is not a kind of rock, but a size.  It’s in the bin between gravel (bigger, coarser) and silt (floury.)  Sand can be formed by many different kinds of rock.  Carmel Beach’s sand is so white because it’s almost pure limestone.)

Mr. Mystical Paradox, William Blake, on sand:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Be in touch for more information about our Blue Theology mission trips for youth and retreats for adults here on the Monterey Peninsula.  Prepare for sand between your toes.

I’ve begun another weekly ocean column, slightly longer, “I Must Go Down to the Sea Again.”  A little more science than these pieces.  Beginning with the Seven Principles of Ocean Literacy – do you know what they are?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Slip Sliding Away

Slip Sliding Away

Headline: Big Sur Coast Grows 13 Acres from Landslide.

“If you look around the world, almost everywhere we are losing coast,” said UC Santa Cruz marine geologist Gary Griggs.  “There are only three places where we gain it.  Hawaii, where new lava flows into the ocean and we sell it for beachfront property; deltas, like the Mississippi, and then massive coastal landslides.

“But this new California land mass won’t be permanent.  It’s probably relatively short lived. It might take a couple years or a decade, but it’ll erode.”

The well-named “Mud Creek” Slide south of Big Sur moved 13 acres/10 football fields/2 million cubic meters of earth on May 20th from mountain to the sea. 

Thanks to you all who got in touch with us after seeing this photo on national news.  No, it has not blocked us.  The slide is far to the south of the Big Sur community, but it does block all access from Southern California and will for at least a year.  We are 40 miles north of the slide, and we are also north of the failed Pfeifer Creek Bridge that has isolated another part of Big Sur from the north. 

We have, of course, had our own slides and washouts here in our canyon this winter.  As Griggs says, water gives and water takes away.  Climate change is surely speeding up some of this slip sliding away, but the earth has actually always been dynamic, moving and shifting, churning and shaking.   

I used our crazy geology as both backdrop and metaphor in a sermon called “Central Coast Christians: On the Edge and On the Move.” We who live west of the San Andreas Fault are literally on a different tectonic plate than the rest of the state, moving steadily north at about the same rate as our fingernails grow.  We are several inches north of where we were a year ago.  I praised our Central Coast UCC churches in the sermon, saying that this life of motion on continent’s end makes us more edgy (in a good sense!) and willing to change. 

We long for a solid foundation, how firm a foundation, an appealing image for God. Granite falling into the sea troubles me, and humbles me.  But all of life is motion, even the inanimate, from atom to ocean current.  The increased instability around me (geologic, political) is literally unsettling. But motion is the essence of creation.  Perhaps it’s just more obvious these days.  It seems like our new normal is instability. 

You could call it edgy motion.  It’s scary and appealing.

Our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove is on sturdy rock, for now.  Check out for our youth mission trips and adult pilgrimages by the sea.