Wednesday, December 30, 2015



When I started volunteering at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1997, the Kelp Forest exhibit was located in “The Nearshore Wing.”  Recently they renamed that half of the Aquarium “The Ocean’s Edge.”

I like “near” better than “edge.”

I like “nearshore” because it’s scientific.  Marine scientists divide the meeting of land and sea into various “zones.” Textbook cross sections label the many zones, from the high dry beach on down to the deepest dark ocean, as variously “nearshore,” “high intertidal,” “benthic” and many more.   I thought “splash zone” was just a cute name for the kids’ section – no, it’s a real zone where there’s wave splash on the rocks, but not constant water.  Every plant and animal adapts to life in its particular zone.

I also like “near” because it’s sort of comforting – something is nearby, nearly here.  Shall we meet at the nearer shore? It’s a soft word.

“Edge” is hard, scary, sharp.  The marketing department is probably trying to hype the visitors’ sense of adventure.  We’re on the edge!

I’ve got enough hard, scary, sharp edge places in my life.  So does our world.  I guess I’m not a thrill seeker.  I like to figure out who or what is near so I can make a connection and we can be nearer.  Nearer and dearer.

This creature wants to live in a near zone, not on the edge.

At the candlelit Taize service this month, over and over we sang, “Look to God, do not be afraid, lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”

As I set up my crèche scenes I tried to place everyone near each other; parents, baby, sheep, shepherds, magi – more body heat.  Nearness brings warmth.  It’s cold out there.

In my daily reflection I read from the book of James, “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”

With my writing partner I tried an early version of this post.  I got going about whether “near” refers to time – it will arrive soon, or space – it’s located close by.  I wrote a paragraph arguing that the time-space continuum proves “near” exists in both time and space.  I went on for some time.  She said calmly, “Near means intimacy.”

Nearer, my God, to thee.

(Photo Chad King, NOAA.  These strawberry anemones look like Christmas decorations,
soft, and near. The photo is off Pacific Grove. You can also see them in the Nearshore Wing.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The King Draws Near

The King Draws Near

We went down to these our favorite tidepools on the afternoon of the Winter Solstice, to check out the King Tides.

King Tides are the mightiest tides. The highest highs of the year.  And the lowest lows.   Every year near the Winter Solstice and Christmas and New Year, the high tides, called tidal surges, crash and flood.  Tidal scourings, the lows, happen at the same time, sucking water far far out, revealing rocks and tidepools and plants and animals not seen any other day.

Faithful readers of these Blue Theology postings recall (Nov. 5) that I am a low tide girl, I like the surprise revelations.  The photo that day was a lovely Monet, a wide Normandy beach.

This too is a low tide picture, but it’s the Central Coast, exposed rock AND crashing waves.  It was both revealing and scary.

That King Tides come this time of year seems appropriate.  As times are ending and beginning, shortening and lengthening, so too are the oceans rising and falling at annual extremes.  Why now?  Earth and Moon and Sun, those distant swirling rocks, this time of year draw the closest to each other.  In their annual dancing around the galaxy, the three now form a line as if square dancing, with paired dance steps called perigee (Moon closest to Earth) and perihelion (Earth closest to Sun).

Our family was doing a little perigee and perihelion dancing that day, drawing near together for the holidays. So we too danced down to the sea.  We climbed far out on newly dry rocks.  The Sun did seem just a bit nearer as it set into the sea.  We gave thanks for the King.  Tides.

(I first posted this last year, also on the solstice.  We’re together again this year, and did some more dancing down to the sea.  Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hold Fast

Hold Fast

Today’s message, from the Gospel according to Kelp Plants, is: “Hold fast.”

This remarkably strong and dense ball of tightly twined root-like material is called a kelp “holdfast.”  It clings “fast” to the ocean floor rocks, anchoring the plant soaring 100 ft. above it through many years of wave and winter storms.

This small holdfast (compared to the towering stalk) is a dense, strong, deep anchor.  And it teems with life itself - thousands of tiny organisms live in its hidden holes and crevices.  In marine biology classes they do “hold fast dissections.”

It is not a root system, for the kelp does not get nourishment from the rock it holds onto; rather the plants are fed through their leaves, called blades, thanks to the motion of the water and photosynthesis.  But when kelp is finally ripped off those rocks by a winter storm, it dies, having lost its anchor.  (The kelp we see on the beach after a storm is less than 5% of all anchorless kelp; most sinks to the ocean floor and feeds animals waiting in the dark for that gift from above.)

Our marine preacher, the kelp, proclaims, “Hold fast to that which is good.”

For some, these words are a familiar Biblical benediction. They can also bring comfort in these dark Advent days of waiting, and in this global time of worry and fear.  Hold fast.  Find a rock, a foundation, and hold on.

My “French-Word-A-Day” lesson last week was “Tiens bon.”  Yes, the author said, it is hard here in France to have hope and faith.  But, she added, we are “holding on,” we say to each other, “Tiens bon.”

There’s hidden life teeming in our strong anchor.  It can weather many a storm.  Ultimately it will give life to countless other lives.

Behold and hold on!!  Tiens bon!

(Photo by Chad King, NOAA, was taken right off “Lover’s Point” in Pacific Grove.  Little know fact; the Methodist founders of PG named it “Lovers of Jesus Point.”  Somehow that name no longer is on
the maps!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015



We all went “googoo gaagaa” over this little baby Giant Sea Bass last week at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Just three inches long, and like a puppy with huge paws, it looks as if it will need some time to grow into those big fins.

25 years from now, when it finally reaches sexual maturity, and its full adult 600 pounds, and six-foot length, our reaction will be more “Wow!” or “Watch Out” than “Ooh, so cute.”

Then for its next 50 years of life, until it dies at 75, this Giant Sea Bass will be the calm, wise yogi of the depths.  But for now, little Nemo-esque, it darts and pokes and attracts adoring fans.

It’s the season of the little child: the baby in the manger, the little angels and shepherds in Christmas pageants, the kids in shelters we eagerly shop for.  All will grow into adults and get much less love and attention than their cute former selves.

The Aquarium has noticed how our hearts go out to babies; as a very effective way to promote sustainable fisheries and ocean conservation our exhibits often feature baby sharks, baby sea otters, baby turtles – all so little and cute.  And all threatened with extinction from human aggression (our hunting, eating, polluting, climate changing.)  (Note I said aggression, not ignorance – we know better!)  Giant Sea Bass faced extinction as well, until strict fisheries management began to reverse their doom.  (

We easily go “googoo gaagaa” over the baby Jesus and keep him a helpless, harmless baby.  That’s a good way to begin the relationship, but I’d rather improve the odds that his life and teachings can mature and reproduce.  Long-lived yogi of the deep and not just the little cute hatchling.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Leaves, Rain Drops, Tears

Leaves, Rain Drops, Tears

It’s a leaf, green and fed by the sun.  The symbol for the UN Climate Change meeting this month in Paris.

If it were blue, it would look like a drop of water.

White or clear, a tear drop.

If it were red, doctors would recognize the “tear shaped” red blood cell.  That would be bad - it’s a sign of blood disease.

Come to think of it, that bright sun in the upper left might be intended to suggest disease for the leaf also.  It’s too darn hot.  Rising temperatures are also a disease symptom, the disease known as climate change, killing our earth.

Might the artist have intentionally chosen a leaf shaped like a tear (there are other leaf shapes,) to suggest human tears, of sorrow or anger, as world leaders meet to try to halt what the Pope called “the limits of suicide?”

Did the UN know that their historic two-week conference would take place in the first two weeks of the Christian season of Advent?  (I doubt it, just noticing….)  A time of expectation and waiting.

Traditionally Advent’s first Sunday is “Hope,” the second “Peace.” We might find a little Hope if the leaders act. We might see some Peace if farms and cities can be sustainable.  (Syria’s torment began when years of drought forced most farmers to move to the already challenged cities.  Climate change breeds war and poverty and injustice.)

I call these weekly writings about ocean spirituality and stewardship my Blue Theology “Tide-ings” and I try to make them “glad tidings.”  Of great Joy.  (Joy is another week in Advent.)  Sometimes it is hard to find Joy, and Peace, and Hope, and Love, in our suicidal destruction of “Our Common Home.”  (The Pope’s title for his encyclical.)

But I was heartened this week to read about people of faith who walked to Paris (“the People’s Pilgrimage”) from the Philippines and Rome and five continents to bring petitions calling for climate justice, from folks of many diverse faiths,.  1.8 million signatures, delivered to a high UN official on the steps of St. Denis Cathedral this past Sunday.  (One of the most precious of France’s churches, burial place of most royalty, the very first Gothic cathedral.)

A Brazilian cardinal and a South African Anglican bishop handed the UN official the signatures and she cried, thanked them for their millions of miles walked, and joined in on a spontaneous dance of Joy. <>

There’s that word again, Joy.  Francis ended his encyclical with Hope.  Paris of all cities longs for Peace.  And we await this Advent the renewal of Love in our midst.  Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thanksgiving Day Parade

This is where I’ll watch the parade on Thanksgiving Day.   Not the Macy’s Parade in NYC, but along my main street – Highway One in Big Sur.  

I’ll stand on these cliffs and see (or imagine) a magnificent parade of marine plants and animals.

H – Holdfast, Hydromedusa
A – Anemone, Avocet
P – Plover, Pisaster
P – Puffin, Pelican, Phytoplankton
Y – Yarrow, Yellowtail, Yellowlegs (Greater and Lesser)

T – Tern, Turbot, Tuna
H – Halibut, Hydrocoral
A – Anchovy, Abyss, Algae
N – Nudibranch, Notochords, Nematocysts
K – Kelp, Kildeer, Krill
S – Salmon, Sunfish, Sea Star, Sculpin, Senorita, Shrimp, Salp
G – Great White Shark, Gastropod
I – Invertebrates, Isopod
V – Vertebrates, Velella Velella, Vulture
I – Ichthyologist, Intertidal
N – Naturalist, Neurotoxins
G – Garibaldi, Gull, Gill

We here at the Blue Theology Mission Station join with our pelagic cousins to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

So much to be thankful for.  (Check out <>)

(Thanks Steve Lonhardt from <> for the great photo.  An amazing free library of ocean photos, thanks to NOAA.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sail On, O Ship of State

Sail On, O Ship of State

“Fluctuat nec mergitur” is Paris’s official motto.

It means “Tossed but not sunk.”   Or “The one who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it.”

You see it everywhere in Paris, on buildings like this school, streetlamps, even on every firefighter’s helmet.  This week Parisians boldly held up “Fluctuat nec mergitur” signs at rallies and wrote it on prayer cards.

Originally the motto of the Seine River boatmen in the Middle Ages, it’s a powerful metaphor for a city with a long tumultuous history; the small ship, the big wave, the brave sailors, the skilled navigators, tossed but not sunk.

“Fluctuare” in Latin means “be wave-like.”  Hence “rise with the wave,” a more active image than “tossed.”  Either way, the sea is rough, but we survive, strong and together.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow popularized the “ship of state” metaphor for Americans in 1850, concluding an 80 page (!) poem about the building of a ship with this stirring stanza:

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, — are all with thee!

That stanza became a rallying cry for those in favor of Union and against slavery; children memorized it, Lincoln was seen to cry when reading it.  Nearly a century later FDR sent the poem to Winston Churchill, a former Head of the British Navy, saying the words were meant to encourage “you and your seafaring nation.”  Churchill cited it in a broadcast; cards and calendars with the words circulated both nations.

Leonard Cohen uses the metaphor in his song “Democracy,” with a twist:

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

At our Blue Theology Mission Station here in Pacific Grove we love all things nautical.  
We are pro-ship and anti-shipwreck.  We ourselves have been tossed in horrible storms literal and figurative.

We stand on deck in solidarity with the sailors of so many ships of state being tossed by “gale and tempest’s roar.”

Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, — are all with thee!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Holy Isle

The Holy Isle

Should I join this line of pilgrims to the Holy Isle, Lindisfarne, off the east coast of England, next summer?
This wet route, the Pilgrim’s Way, is marked by posts in the sand, since the path to the small remote island floods twice a day at high tide. This picture shows an Easter morning pilgrimage.

It’s been called “The Holy Isle” ever since St. Cuthbert was bishop and hermit there in the 7th century.  It’s a “thin place” with sacred ruins and an active spiritual community.  40 years ago, on my first pilgrimage to holy sites, I went to the holy island of Iona off Scotland’s west coast, whence came the monks who founded Lindisfarne.  Now I try to go to France and the UK every other year, on a “soul journey.”

This week I began the winter reading and prep time for my pilgrimage, almost as fun and devotional as the journey itself.  Today I read this description by a modern pilgrim who walked to Lindisfarne across the tidal waters, on the Pilgrim’s Way;

“Battling along the north coast with the wind blowing in gusts of 90 miles an hour, I came at last to Lindisfarne.  I arrived in time before the tide closed the causeway.

“I was in a sacred temple of which the sea is the keeper.

“Twice every day the sea opens the gates of the temple to let the pilgrim, the visitors and even the tourists in.  Tourists generally return before the sea closes the gates, but pilgrims are in no hurry.  They stay the night, or a few nights, to be soaked in the tranquility and purity of the place. 

“The monks who chose to build the priory here were very wise; there are very few such sacred sites where the sea is the guardian of the soul. 

“The moment I stepped on the white sand I was free of the busy world.  Here I was in the company of the sun, the sky, the sea, the sand dunes, and the spirits of saintly souls. 

“St. Cuthbert prayed and meditated in solitude, totally surrendering himself to the sacred sound of the sea. 

“Every night after midnight when all his fellow monks were asleep he would get up and go out.  On one occasion, a curious monk, a light sleeper, noticed this and followed him. 

He found him in the sea up to his armpits, where he spent the night occasionally singing hymns, and with only the waves for accompaniment.  At daybreak Cuthbert came out of the sea and knelt on the sand to pray.  Two otters followed in his footsteps, licked his feed and warmed them with their bodies. 

“This is the island where humans, nature, and religion are one.”  (Satish Kumar, in ‘Traveling Souls: Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories.’)

The Psalmist writes: “Your way is in the sea and your path in the great waters and your footsteps are not known.” (Psalm 77:19)

I think my path may be though the great waters, to a sacred temple of which the sea is the keeper.  There I could surrender myself to the sacred sound of the sea.


(I’m planning some guided pilgrimage walks around the Monterey Bay area, as part of our Blue Theology ministry.  Be in touch….)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dark and Wet

Dark and Wet

In an hour Orion will be risen,
Be glad for summer is dead and the sky
Turns over to darkness.
Good storms, few guests, glad rivers.

Our good rain this week brought to mind these lines from Carmel poet Robinson Jeffers.  I love the winter wet and am relieved to see our days turn over to darkness. Please please, more good storms, make glad the rivers.

Ron and I are clearing culverts on our dirt road, bringing in firewood and storing up supplies for a hoped and feared bad winter.

Jeffers can be a little dark himself; he is glad not just that summer is over but that it’s dead.  But even he, who knew my little Palo Colorado creek, would have called it glad this week. You can see it’s still a trickle, lots of early season silt, but definitely glad.

Inspired by the rain, and by a sweet exhibit at our local library honoring another great writer, Rachel Carson, I followed the call into the wet woods.

Carson wrote, “A rainy day is a perfect time for a walk in the
woods.  Then all the needles of the evergreens wear a sheath of silver; ferns seem to have grown to almost tropical lushness and every leaf has its edging of crystal drops.  Strangely colored fungi – mustard yellow and apricot and scarlet – are pushing out of the leaf mold and all the lichens and mosses have come alive with green and silver freshness.”

She was describing Maine, but it could have been this redwood forest.  The smell is dank, the creek gurgle is sweet, and a multitude of drops tinkle on leaf edge.

I rejoice in the dark and the wet.  There nestles needed rest, and new life.

(We may have few guests now, but folks are already signing up for Blue Theology adult retreats and mission trips, in February, spring break and next summer, to practice ocean stewardship and spirituality. We also guide individual retreats. <>)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Her Deepness

Her Deepness

Fans of Dr. Sylvia Earle (myself included) so respect her for her ocean science and advocacy that we call her “Her Deepness” and “The Sturgeon General.”

Now 80, this diver, scientist, explorer, advocate, aquanaut was the first female chief scientist for NOAA, Time Magazine’s first Hero of the Planet (1998) and is currently National Geographic Explorer in Residence.

I heard her speak last week here in Monterey.  I highly recommend the film “Mission Blue” that she made with (and you can see it on) Netflix, about her life and her work, as well as her many YouTube talks, and her award winning TED talk. 

Not just a world class scientist, she is a tireless advocate and a fantastic interpreter of ocean issues for the public.  And she has her own Lego figure!

I’ll hand the rest of this week’s Blue Theology posting over to her:

“The most valuable thing we extract from the ocean is our own existence.”

“No child left dry – get them out there in the ocean!”

“No water, no life.  No blue, no green.”

“I wish you would use all means at your disposal – films!, expeditions!, the web! new submarines! – to create a campaign to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, Hope Spots, large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.”

“I want everyone to go jump in the ocean to see for themselves how beautiful it is, how important it is to get acquainted with fish swimming in the ocean, rather than just swimming with lemon slices and butter.”

Earle travels 300 days a year, lectures, lobbies, visits and dives in the now 50 official Hope Spots in the world’s oceans, large marine protected areas.  She is passionate and  hopeful. 

The day after I heard her speak she was on her way to see Laura and George W. Bush – she wanted to thank Pres. Bush for designating the then largest Hope Spot, in Northwest Hawaii (Obama has since designated more) and she intended to encourage them to do more for the oceans.

Get ready, Bushes, to honor and obey Her Deepness.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Big Sur Monks

The Big Sur Monks

I first got to know the Benedictine monks of the New Camaldoli Monastery on the Big Sur Coast 10 years ago when a small group of coast activists came together to challenge the US military.  At our first meeting their clean long white robes stood in sharp contrast to the Big Sur aging hippies (like myself!) But the monks emerged as leaders in our cause.

The US Navy had, without notice, started flying bomber jets on daily test runs, very low and loud, from Ft. Hunter Ligget, neighbor of the monastery, along the coast and out over the ocean.  Not only were these flights a shocking intrusion into the peace of the monks and their many retreatants, but it was crazy to see one federal agency, the Navy, wrecking havoc on the long hard work of another federal program, US Fish and Wildlife’s decades long patient program, in that same Big Sur wilderness, to bring the California condor back from the brink of extinction.

Talk about David and Goliath.  But with much effort we were ultimately successful in stopping the Navy’s flights, with the help of our Member of Congress Sam Farr.  I am sure that those white robed monks at the rallies and many meetings had a huge influence. 

Later I met the monks again at another meeting.  (These monks don’t just spend all day in contemplation, even though their great website is <>.  Like all religious leaders, they have to go to a lot of meetings.) This one was the Four Winds Council, a fantastic cooperative effort of four spiritually based groups who all offer hospitality in the Ventana Wilderness: The Esalen Institute, the Monastery, the Essalen Nation of native people (which offers guided trips into the wilderness), and Tassajara Zen Center.  They draw from different traditions, but share times of spiritual renewal (they had just been in a sweat lodge together) and strategies (that day it was plumbing problems.) 

You might expect me to say that my favorite times with the monks were the more “spiritual” ones.   I do love worshipping with them at their noon sung mass in the splendid chapel.  (I did that recently on a business trip down the coast, planned the trip with a stop there.)  Some years ago I spent a restorative three days in their remote hermitage in solitary silent retreat.  My spirit is fed just visiting the great bookstore and taking in the view 1300 feet above the rugged coast.

But I am forever grateful that our coast is silent and the condor babies are surviving.  That’s a deeply spiritual gift from the monks.

(On our Blue Theology youth mission trips and adult retreats we don’t get as far south as the Monastery, but we do spend time at closer holy spots – Carmel Mission, the UCC Community Church labyrinth, and of course our own Christian Church sanctuary in Pacific Grove.  Oh yeah, and another sanctuary, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Church and state sometimes mix very nicely, as when monks challenge bombers and governments name protected areas “sanctuaries.”)

(We are booking groups for 2016.  Check out

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Golden Orange

Golden Orange

If autumn needs an official fish, let’s make it this garibaldi fish.  So wonderfully orange.

The garibaldi is the California State Marine Fish.  All official California things are golden/orange – Golden Gate, Golden State.  Our state Freshwater Fish is the golden trout. 

(I even heard a state water conservation ad that said, “Water your fruit trees, but let your lawns go golden!”)

Why “garibaldi?”  The uniforms of the Italian liberator’s soldiers were this color.  Actually, the fish do remind me of little soldiers in the kelp forest; the males aggressively defend from predators the nest of eggs they have fertilized, darting around like sentry guards.

It seems like orange is everywhere this fall.  I’ve seen it in the eclipsing harvest moon, and at the roadside pumpkin patch.  I drive under a canopy of orange sycamore leaves in our canyon. I made a fall stew yesterday, carrots and yams, spiced with mace and cloves. 

Keats wrote about autumn:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run….”

Nice autumn images: “mellow fruitfulness,” “close bosom-friend,” “maturing”, “load and bless with fruit.”

My garibaldi friend shines like a California gold nugget.  It serves and protects like a determined orange-coated sentry.  So fruitful, it could be a loaded, ripening pumpkin on a vine.  This little round orange ball – it’s like a mellow autumn sun. 

Thanks fall, thanks sun, thanks garibalidi , all close bosom-friends, for conspiring to load us with more blessings.

Happy autumn, from beneath the waves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Holy Hermit (Crab)

Holy Hermit (Crab)

I was invited to a Blessing of the Animals this past Sunday and I offered to bring a sea creature of some kind, to round out the usual dogs and hamsters.  The good folks at La Selva UCC said, “We’ll give you a table for your sea creature, and please say something at prayer time about it and your ministry around ocean stewardship and spirituality, Blue Theology.”

Later I thought - Wait!  I’m all about protecting the ocean.  I keep saying we should treat animals as subjects and not objects, some ONE I have an I-Thou relationship with, not some THING I would use just for my needs.  How can I take a precious creature out of its home for “show and tell” at church?

I consulted my Monterey Bay Aquarium friends about my dilemma: keep my promise and honor St. Francis or leave well enough alone?  They suggested an acceptable compromise – find one hermit crab in an ocean tide pool, put it in a big jar with sea water, take it to church, ask God to bless it, and return it promptly to its home. 

So early Sunday morning found me in my church clothes at my favorite secluded rocky beach, poised over crashing waves with my jar – voila, my little hermit.  I picked up some lovely feather boa kelp also, as an altar cloth, and to make little Hermy feel at home on the table.

At prayer time I said, “I brought for our blessing today a hermit crab, to represent the millions of sea creatures that Francis, and God, include in the family of all creation.  I thought it was appropriate to bring a hermit crab, because it reminds us of the great monastic tradition of which Francis is a part.  (Get it? Hermits?)  And because, as an animal born without a shell, it represents the homeless and vulnerable that Francis so loved.  As the hermit crab grows, and seeks to find an empty shell to move into, we remember how we can stand in solidarity with the homeless, and offer what we have (our empty shell?) to those in need.”

Or something like that.  I was sort of kidding.  And sort of not.  It really was holy, this 
holy hermit (crab.) 

I dropped it back in its tide pool on my way home, and added my prayer of thanks.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sister Moon, Sister Water

Sister Moon, Sister Water

Sisterhood is powerful.  

Especially if your sisters are Sister Moon and Sister Water. 

With my UCC clergy colleagues I spent two days in retreat this week with the Franciscans of San Damiano Retreat Center.  The spirit of St. Francis pervades this place of beauty; it felt like we were constantly humming along with him his “Canticle to All Creation.”

“Praise be to you, my Lord,
Through Sister Moon and the stars;
In heaven you formed them
Clear and precious and beautiful.”

At dusk on Sunday, looking east over Mt. Diablo, our song was:
“Praise to you, O God.
Behold, our Sister Moon rising blood red, eclipsing and ascending.
She is our sister, kin in blood and change.
She is clear and precious and beautiful.”

The fountains at San Damiano gurgle without ceasing, harmony for Francis’ paean to water:

“Praise be to you, my Lord,
Through Sister Water,
Which is useful and humble and precious and chaste.”

To honor Francis we took short showers, and were frugal at the sink.  Our bathroom song (always fun to sing in the shower) was:
“Praise to you, O God,
For our Sister Water,
So very, very precious. 
We too are humbled in gratitude,
And if by chaste you mean saying no,
We’ll say no to wasting water.”

Francis called both Moon and Water, “precious.”

Thanks, soul sisters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2.4 Million Pounds

2.4 Million Pounds

Can a painting change behavior? 

After an hour in an art museum I am full of joy, connection, inspiration.  Will these feelings make me less likely to drop my trash outside onto the sidewalk?  Might my art-expanded heart enlarge my compassion for the world outside?

Artist Chris Jordan hopes so.  This collage, an homage to the classic Japanese painting of a crashing wave with Mt. Fuji in the distance, is not just a pretty picture.  He created it to inspire us but also to change us, to make us less trashy and more compassionate.

And we will change, he hopes, because we will understand what the number 2.4 million looks like.  Or weighs like, actually.

Every hour, day and night, 2.4 million pounds of plastic enters the world’s oceans.  So to help us comprehend that number, Jordan used 2.4 million pieces of plastic to create this collage. (This is a photo of the original, which is huge, 8x11 ft.) 

If you can zoom in you’ll see plastic spoons and combs and toothbrushes along with millions of specks and flecks of beautiful color and deadly poison.

It’s part of the exhibit about plastics at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, encouraging us to reduce, recycle and reuse.  But instead of dreary photos of all the plastic found in one albatross’ stomach (well, they’ve got one of those too) they invited artists to create things of beauty, made out of things of ugly.  Lots of gorgeous sculptures and installations all made from plastic.

At first we see beauty and our hearts are opened.  Looking closer and seeing the trash, we see the ugly, and our hearts are broken.

Jordan says of this work, “It is so hard to comprehend the gravity of phenomena [like ocean plastics] through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics.  Sociologists tell us that the human mind cannot meaningfully grasp numbers higher than a few thousand; yet every day we read of mass phenomena characterized by numbers in the millions, billions, even trillions…I believe it is worth connecting with these issues and allowing them to matter to us personally, despite the complex mixture of anger, fear, grief and rage that this process can entail.  Perhaps these uncomfortable feelings can become part of what connects us, serving as fuel for courageous individual and collective action as citizens of a new kind of global community.  This hope continues to motivate my work.”

2.4 million bits of ugly combine for one work of beauty.  We stroll by, inspired.  We slow down and learn.  We pause and try to count, to grasp the number.  And then maybe our hearts turn, just a bit, and we say, “Stop.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There is No Legend of This Place

There is No Legend of This Place

There is no legend of this place
no myth of Gods or men
that being told could be translated
into our tongue,
or being translated could be understood
of our mind.

This is a lost place – out of the memory of the race –
of any known race.
One goes into it unaware;
one comes out from it haunted
as the trees are haunted
and the undying rocks
and the dark groves where fear is.

These that are here have no likeness;
they are not troubled as we are troubled;
they move on different feet – they look with other eyes
on a sea that hold their ships –
ships that come and go,
mysterious as thought –
shadows in a moon.

Jeanne D’Orge, 1928

(English author and painter Jeanne D’Orge (1877-1964) came to NYC and was one of “The Others” with William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens; they did a poetry read at the Armory Show in 1913.  She moved to Carmel with her academic husband and children in 1920 but soon married the much younger fellow artist/eccentric Carl Cherry.  Friends with Robinson Jeffers and Edward Weston, she walked Point Lobos nearly every day. She donated their studio/home to be an arts center and it’s now the Carl Cherry Center, a great local place for art shows, theater, poetry readings.  It’s where the Monterey Bay Zen Center meets and I go there every week for meditation.   In my “Selected Poems of Point Lobos” I have four Jeanne D’Orge poems. A local account reads, D’Orge  “often appeared on the streets of Carmel wearing a big pink hat, ankle length Chinese robes and paint-stained tennis shoes.”  My kind of woman.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Travel Suggestions

Travel Suggestions

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

So wrote Kurt Vonnegut, whose books are certainly full of the peculiar, travel, dancing and God.

These medieval travelers are pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.  Surely a peculiar travel suggestion from God; leave home for the dangers and drama of sailing to Jerusalem.  Dancing?  Only the waves are dancing at this point, but maybe the pilgrims danced with joy when they walked where Jesus walked.

On Labor Day weekend I always look back at my summer travels.  Highlights were:
- the new Whitney Art Museum in NYC and the High Line,
- listening to gospel flute and eating Cajun fish in a lush Savannah square,
- and my personal pilgrimage journey: a visit to Dr. Bob’s house in Akron, birthplace of AA.  

(I wrote about that visit in my other weekly column:

Nothing peculiar about that travel suggestion, just your basic visit to a holy shrine, with a little dance of gratitude on the side.

Where did God suggest you travel this summer?  Do any dancing?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sea Glass Carousel

Sea Glass Carousel

I took a ride on this magical new Sea Glass Carousel last week, in New York City’s Battery Park.  Waiting in line with lots of excited children, I had happy memories of childhood merry-go-rounds in Oak Bluffs and Palisades Park.

But this time, instead of horses, I rode these exotic fish.  For four full minutes, 30 angelfish and lionfish shimmer and rotate, change color, yaw and twirl, up and down, to the strains of mysterious music. 

Actually molded of bioluminescent fiberglass, it’s called the Sea Glass Carousel, evoking one more magical mystery – sea glass! How is that ocean waves can transform a simple broken bottle into those precious soft sea glass treasures?

If our Blue Theology Mission Station had a theme park – this would be the main attraction.
One of the carousel’s creators was set designer on the Broadway version of “The Little Mermaid.”  Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, under the sea!

It’s called Battery Park because the first Dutch settlers set up cannons there. A hulking War of 1812 fort still looms over the shoreline.  The nearby new Freedom Tower can’t erase the nightmare of 9/11.  2012’s Superstorm Sandy flooded and scoured the park.  Despite happy families and tourists, the raw memories of war, terror and devastation still stalk the park.

Like beating swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, the Battery Conservancy has turned cannons into fish hooks.  And fish carousels. Sea stars whose arms have been devoured can grow back new arms; so the Carousel is helping the park resurge and resurrect.

(I wrote last week about “Big Blue Live,” the BBC/PBS live TV/online show about ocean diversity and recovery on Monterey Bay.  My favorite line so far, “This is about redemption!”  You can see the last episode tonight Sept. 2.  Or stream the whole thing anytime from – it’s fantastic.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What is Your Spirit Animal?

What is Your Spirit Animal?

According to the BBC, my Monterey Bay “spirit animal” is the humpback whale.  I filled out a simple quiz and they wrote back, “Welcome to Team Humpback!  You are easygoing and appreciate the little things in life.  You are never too busy to relax with your favorite music or hobby, and people find your calm and pleasant personality refreshing.”

It’s “Big Blue Live” week here in Monterey; BBC and PBS crews are everywhere, producing live TV and online broadcasts (8/31-9/2 in the US) featuring (in their words) “some of the world’s most charismatic marine creatures convening in a once-a-year confluence of fins, fur and fangs in the once endangered and now thriving ecosystem of Monterey Bay.”

I just watched the first BBC episode, already broadcast in the UK, and despite the breathless superlatives (fins, fur, fangs!) it really is quite moving and inspiring.  Check it out at

On the Big Blue Live promotional website there’s a button “What is your spirit animal?” Based on your answers to such scientific questions as “Which kind of movie do you like?” and “What’s your dream vacation?” you are welcomed to Team Humpback, Sea Otter, Great White Shark, Sooty Shearwater, California Sea Lion or Garibaldi. 

(This is actually a good way to engage people. I learned in Aquarium guide class, and preaching class, to tell the big story in such a way that the listener connects it to their own story – that story is my story! The whale’s story is my story.)

Curious, I took the test again and answered a little off character (fav movie? buddy comedy rather than musical) and got Team Garibaldi, “You are friendly and adventurous but you demand respect and don’t hesitate to defend what is yours; especially your friends and family.  You take pride in your persistence and tough nature and love to be in the spotlight.”  (Male garibaldi fish defend their babies from predators.) 

I’ve read enough myth and Jung to know about “spirit animals” as sort of mythic/dream companions or guides from the animal world.  Turns out it’s also a popular type of online quiz that purports to predict personality by conflating animals traits (humpbacks sing!) with movie choices (I like musicals!)

OK Streeter, enough with the snide putdowns of promotional superlatives and cute quizzes.  As a matter of fact, Monterey Bay IS big and blue and alive, and the animals there (here) ARE full of spirit, connecting and inspiring us all. 

Just sit back and enjoy the show.  Try to be more like Job, in the Bible, “Just ask the animals, and they will teach you.  Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you.  Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you.  Let the fish in the sea speak to you.” 

(One of our Blue Theology partners, Kate Spencer, is the whale expert on the broadcasts.  On our youth mission trips and adults retreats we see all these spirit animals!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trust in Tule

Trust in Tule

Remember the children’s sermon or camp activity where you take one stick, and easily break it, but then bind together a bunch of sticks and they can’t be broken?  Community is like that, we assure the kids; together we are stronger.

Call it “the tule sermon.”  Today we honor the humble tule reed. 

Visit a Monterey wetlands and these 15-foot sturdy, flexible plants are everywhere.  Similar to bulrushes and cattails, they are home to myriad birds and fish.  At the top you will see marsh wrens nesting, then find coots at home at water level, and under the water discover crustaceans and fish thriving in their wet roots.

Our region’s native Ohlone also used the tule for homes, weaving and binding them into quick and strong shelter.  Tule became baskets, mats, duck decoys and even breathing tubes to hide underwater during attack. 

I don’t have to use the past tense to talk about Ohlone tule boats – these sleek beauties still ply the waters.

Thanks, tules, for being so beautiful, flexible, useful, strong, and welcoming. 

Two authentic tule boats set sail 3 times a day this summer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the educational and entertaining deck show, “Turning the Tide.”  Local Ohlone wise woman Linda Yamane cut the tule, fashioned the crafts and speaks on the videos about how her ancestors fished from these boats.  Later in the show other local folks tell stories of their particular ethnic and fishing ancestry and heritage.  When the tule boats have left the Great Tidepool, out sails a Japanese abalone dive boat, a Chinese squid junk and a Sicilian lampara sardine boat. We’ve taken some of the youth groups on Blue Theology mission trips there this summer to learn about diversity and sustainable fisheries.

Some fun facts about tule reeds:
-“Tule” is a Native American word.
- Tule is essential in wetlands, serving as a barrier to wind and water forces, preventing erosion. California has built over 75% of its wetlands and eradicate much tule.
-Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, in the Central Valley, was named by white settlers for all the tule reeds in the lake.  (I do have to use the past tense here; the lake dried up when the rivers that fed it were all diverted in the 1920’s for agriculture.)
-People said they lived “in the tules” when they meant they lived far away.
-It’s the source of more California names like tule fog, tule elk, Tule Lake Japanese internment camp.

So it’s a very California plant – linked to our native heritage, used creatively and also exploited, drained and killed, associated with beautiful bounty as well as with genocide, still surviving thanks to conservation and determination.  Yes, we are stronger together.  Let’s be like the tule and use our strength to create shelter and beauty.  And to sail.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Written on the Chalkboards of History

Written on the Chalkboards of History

The signs read, “Attention! Failaises dangereuses!”  Dangerous cliffs.  Don’t get too close to the edge, read the signs at the top.  Here at the bottom, they meant, stay back from the cliff base, where giant rocks regularly crash down.

You can see that we ignored the signs and scrambled all day, both at the top and the base of these massive chalky French monoliths (right across the Channel from their sister White Cliffs of Dover).  Norah and I had long loved Monet’s paintings of this coast and vowed to go ourselves.  That night we stayed in the small fishing village, St. Valery-en-Caux, St. Valery-in-the-Chalk. 

I’m indulging in a little travel nostalgia here, our trip almost ten years ago to Normandy’s “Alabaster Coast.”  Alabaster meaning white, like the chalk of school or sidewalk or sideline. 

Chalk, which is, like so many things in our lives, a gift from the sea.

Thomas Huxley was the first to slice chalk very thin and place it under his simple microscope.  Seeing these complex round globules he said they looked like “badly grown raspberries” and christened them “coccoliths,” literally “berries of stone.”  In a fascinating lecture “On a Piece of Chalk,” (1868) he told the citizens or Norwich that “a great chapter of the history of the world is written in chalk.”  Like all English, they adored their precious white cliffs, source of their mythological name Albion (white).  But Huxley used the story of chalk to promote the then new science of geology, that the world was much, much older than the Biblical calculus of 4000 years. 

He proved that these coccoliths were actually the skeletons of ancient marine organisms, tiny plankton. Using this picture, and evidence from the deep sea muck being pulled up that year by the engineers who were laying the first transatlantic telegraph cable, he proved that England’s precious white cliffs, were “the dried mud of an ancient deep sea.”

We now know for certain what Huxley asserted, that when these tiny sea creatures died, millions of years ago, they sank to the bottom, where massive deep sea pressure and weight compressed them into chalk.  Then came millennia of geological shaking and uplift, and voila, (Sacre Bleu!) chalk cliffs.

“Attention!  Failaises dangeureuses!”  It was dangerous for Huxley to challenge the theological establishment and assert that the world was so old, and still constantly changing.   But he too was a rash explorer who ignored signs that said be careful. 

He had tasted the pursuit of truth, as sweet as a “badly grown raspberry.” All thanks to a little marine organism.  Written on the pages of time.

(Check out <> for more on our church’s adult retreats and youth mission trips on ocean stewardship and spirituality.  I also post these weekly meditations on Facebook.  Join the Blue Theology Mission Station page/group.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Joyful, Joyful

Joyful, Joyful

Preachers know the good advice, “Let the text work on you before you work on the text.”

Early in my Blue Theology ministry I was trying to write a sermon about the ocean, called “Water and the Word,” and I was getting nowhere.  I went to sleep (mercifully it was only Friday night) to let it work on me.  As I woke up I was puzzled to find the hymn tune “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” running through my head.  As I made breakfast, the text finally worked on me, verse three; “You are giving and forgiving, Ever blessing, ever blessed, Wellspring of the joy of living, Ocean depth of happy rest.”

Wellspring and ocean depth – God is like a spring and an ocean of mystery and new life and abundance. “The water that I will give will become in [you] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” “The spirit hovered over the deep.” “Deep calls to deep.”  The sermon wrote itself.

Presbyterian minister Henry Van Dyke wrote the words for “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” in 1907.  He was also Professor of English Literature at Princeton for 30 years, US ambassador to Holland and, near the end of his life, a Navy Chaplain, in World War I.  He said of this hymn,

 “These verses are simple expressions of common Christian feelings and desires in this present time—hymns of today that may be sung together by people who know the thought of the age, and are not afraid that any truth of science will destroy religion, or any revolution on earth overthrow the kingdom of heaven. Therefore this is a hymn of trust and joy and hope.”

His hymn reminds me of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun,” how it’s not just us humans singing, but all of creation praising God, “Praise God, sun and moon!” and how all creatures “lift up their voice and with us sing.” 

And it’s all about joy.  Singing seems to come from joy and produce joy. “Chanting birds and flowing fountains call us to rejoice in Thee.” 

Then there’s that curious phrase, “flowery meadow, flashing sea.”  Flashing sea?  What does that image evoke in you?

But my favorite line is: “Hearts unfold like flowers before you, opening to the sun above.”  These sea anemones (painted by German biologist artist Ernst Haeckel around the same time Van Dyke wrote the hymn) are actually animals, not plants, but they are named for the anemone flower.  And they sure look as if they are opening their very hearts in joy and praise. 

May our hearts unfold like flowers, and sing, with joy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Moon Shell

Moon Shell

Pretend you are on retreat and the leader puts this moon shell in your hand.  The leader then invites you:  “Ponder this shell and then prayerfully allow its shape and beauty to open up your heart.”

That’s what Anne Morrow Lindbergh does in “Gift from the Sea,” her amazing 1955 collection of essays inspired by seashells.

“This is a snail shell, round, full and glossy as a horse chestnut.  Comfortable and compact, it sits curled up like a cat in the hollow of my hand.  Milky and opaque, it has the pinkish bloom of the sky on a summer evening, ripening to rain.  On its smooth symmetrical face is penciled with precision a perfect spiral, winding inward to the pinpoint center of the shell, the tiny dark core of the apex, the pupil of the eye.  It stares at me, this mysterious single eye – and I stare back. 

“Now it is the moon, solitary in the sky, full and round, replete with power.  Now it is the eye of a cat that brushes noiselessly through long grass at night.  Now it is an island, set in ever-widening circles of waves, alone, self contained, serene.”

By the end of her essay “Moon Shell” she has referenced Quakers, Plotinus, Catherine of Siena (“The cell of self-knowledge is the stall in which the pilgrim must be reborn.”) John Donne, William James, Mary and Martha, and Virginia Woolf. 

It’s a poignant essay by a woman longing for solitude and stillness, a time and space of her own.  She wrote it during a precious few weeks on a Florida island away from her husband and five kids.  She names the moon shell her “island shell” and takes it home with her to remind her of this time apart.

I read this book long ago, and remembered her lovely descriptions of shells.  But  rereading it this week I was struck by Morrow Lindbergh’s sadness and longing.   Even though she lived what seemed a privileged and successful life, she felt trapped, like many women in the 1950’s, by the needs and expectations of others.  She says the moon shell reminds her of what Jesus calls Mary’s “better choice” against all the distractions of a Martha life.

It was restless women like Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Betty Friedan who helped the second wave of feminism come crashing onto the shores of America in the 60’s.  Like Morrow Lindbergh’s revelations from the sea, so white middle class women heard a call to leave the stifling confines of the suburbs, seeking voice and choice. 

I like that we call the different eras of the women’s movement “waves.” A good image for what can happen when we listen to the sea and its many gifts.

(We’ve got 18 great Blue Theologians here this week from churches in Lakeport and North Hollywood, experiencing waves and moon shells, solitude and stillness.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blue Serengeti

Blue Serengeti

Across Africa’s Serengeti Plain wildebeests and zebras and other ungulates by the millions annually make “The Great Migration,” coursing their well-worn route, feasting on the rich savannah grasses, and resting by precious watering holes.

“The Blue Serengeti” is a new name that marine biologist have given the Pacific Ocean. Millions of sharks and whales and turtles and seals and tuna likewise migrate yearly through these vast waters, thousands of miles, from Asia to the Americas and back.

“Do tuna and sharks have regular migration routes, favorite watering holes?” asked Stanford Prof. Barbara Block in a great lecture to Aquarium guides the other night.  It was she who coined the phrase, Blue Serengeti.

You can’t observe “The Great Aquatic Migration” because it takes place underwater.  Without data, fisheries managers and governments can ignore calls for regulation and conservation.  So for over ten years Block and others have attached thousands of microchipped satellite tags onto the backs or fins of all kinds of different “highly migratory marine species,” to collect data on where they swim, how deep they dive, etc. (, Tagging of Pacific Predators, map above).  She calls it “fish and chips.”

She’s proved that these Pacific Serengeti migrators, like the African ones, return to the same spots yearly to spawn and to feed.  They too long for a journey that is safe, where they can rest and feed at “watering holes” rich in food and free of danger.

Our coastal marine sanctuaries are a good start, but protection must extend into open oceans, and fishing agreements must be forged between the many different nations where these international travelers live.  Block is seeking some kind of UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the entire Blue Serengeti. 

Ours is an era of global migration and immigration, rivers of refugees, millions on the move, most in danger, pushed and pulled.  Let’s do what we can to improve the odds for safe journeys for all migrators, with watering (and feeding) holes along the way.

(Come on one our Blue Theology retreat/mission trips and experience migration and the Blue Serengeti first hand.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

The Pope’s encyclical on creation care is making a lot of people cry. 

And not just tears of frustration and denial from his detractors, those who reject climate science or want their religious leaders tame and nice.*

No, people are also crying Psalm-like tears of lament, “Yes, Francis, we can’t breathe, the sea rises, our enemies surround us.  We cry with you.  Yes, environmental destruction is a sin.  How long?”

And people are weeping tears of joy and relief, “Hallelujah, Francis, after so much silence from the church, you have heard the cry of the earth, the cry of the poor.”

Leonardo Boff, Franciscan and Brazilian liberation theologian, hounded and silenced by previous popes, and like Francis, a child of Italian immigrants to South America, now hears his Pope use the same phrase as his own book on ecological liberation theology, “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.”  You are crying and your tears are heard.

Catholic Bishops in the Philippines read in the encyclical their very own words from a tearful lament they wrote 25 years ago.  “How can fish swim in running sewers like the Pasig (Manila’s river) and so many more rivers we have polluted?  Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life? Imagine! Only 5% of our corals are in their pristine state!”  Francis heard and quoted you and your cries.

Filipino religious brother Jaazael Jakosalem turned his tears into creativity, painting this new icon of Jesus and Francis.  He explained, “Besides the Son of the Creator, the icon also has the Poor Man of Assisi at the lower center in a way that calls attention to the message of his canticle where he refers to the sun as brother, to the moon as his sister, and to the earth – symbolized by the plant - as his mother.”

That’s a reference to the encyclical’s opening cry; “Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.”

Boff wrote a good response to the encyclical on his blog.  He says Francis writes in the Latin American liberation theology rubric:  “see, judge, act, celebrate.”  Boff appreciates that after powerful truthtelling, the Pope concludes the letter with celebrative hope, writing on the last page, “Let us sing as we go.  May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”

Nor our tears.

*In my earlier published version of this line I indulged in some mean-spirited caricatures of the Pope's detractors.  I apologize.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Most Intelligent Animal?

The Most Intelligent Animal?

“Show me the biggest shark in the Aquarium, the really poisonous ray, the tank with the most water….”  Youth in our Blue Theology mission trips often want to see the superlative, the biggest, the most dangerous…..

But I hadn’t heard this request before; “Which are the most intelligent animals here?”  An intelligent (!) member of First Christian Church of Sterling, Colorado  (yes, 21 of them flew here for a week of ocean spirituality and stewardship) asked me that question this week.

Hmmm, probably the otters and the octopus.  Good problem solvers, long memories, can communicate with each other, use tools, learn from past challenges and find a new solution – these are the various definitions of intelligence we were taught when I first became a volunteer guide at the Aquarium.  The giant Pacific octopus, I’ve said many a time, is the most intelligent of the invertebrates, recognizes people, expresses emotion, can learn new, faster ways to get dinner…..

But recently the great education staff taught us a new idea: that every single animal on land and sea  is intelligent.  Because every animal has the intelligence it needs, from single cell to – human, to survive.  It’s not about superlatives, who has the most.  It’s adaptation, every creature evolves to do what it needs to do.

As I was trying to give this new answer to my questioner, he quickly responded, “Oh, like what Einstein said, ‘Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’”

God the Creator gave every living being the intelligence they need.  I would be superlatively bad at being a fish.  My tree climbing days are over.  But I humbly try to share the gifts I have.  Thanks be to God.

(Join the Blue Theology Mission Station Facebook page to get these Wednesday reflections and other BT info and photos regularly.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Whales? In Cleveland?

Whales?  In Cleveland?

Yes, 100 whales accompanied me to Cleveland this week for our big national church meeting, General Synod, United Church of Christ, 2000 folks.  They did not have to swim I put them in a ziplock bag and the TSA folks didnt seem even to notice them in my bag.

I gave them away in the exhibit hall and workshops and after worship, and they are now on their way home with UCC folks all across the nation, spreading the good news of our Blue Theology Mission Station adult retreats and youth mission trips, and our new website <>, promoting ocean stewardship and spirituality.

Have you ever come home from a conference with lots of flyers and brochures and then just thrown them out?  We wanted a different way to get peoples attention and curiosity. Later this month more hundreds of whales will travel to the big Disciples of Christ (DOC) meeting in Columbus.

All marine mammals were actually once land mammals, before the shifting landmasses and melting glaciers enticed them back to their native sea thats why they still breathe air and nurse their young and have vestigial fingers.  I wonder if these whales have racial memories of when Ohio was a primeval seabed. 

I was the one who came up with the idea of handing out origami whales, but I cannot take credit for folding and stamping them all.  That honor belongs to my daughter Norah, whom I initially consulted just for designs, since she is an origami whiz.  But like a migrating whale determined to make it home for summer feeding, Norah started folding this spring wherever she went: on long road trips, enlisting friends at neighborhood potlucks, even at a gathering of her new in laws, she taught her new brother in law and father in law the simple design; thanks Henry and Steve!

Thanks, Norah and friends, for folding and stamping 800 origami Blue Theology whales.

Thanks UCC and DOC folks who are giving the whales a new home in churches across the nation and spreading the glad tidings of Blue Theology.

Let me know if you want your own. They are light, pack easily, and love to travel.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Walking a New Path

Walking a New Path

This is a new path at Point Lobos State Reserve.  I walked it last week with my adult children Owen and Norah, at their invitation.
It was the day before Norah’s wedding.  Talk about a new path!

If our lives are journeys, (“the way,” “the pilgrim route,” “a long strange trip”) it’s a special day when we find a new path.   This was a special day.
In fact, while parts of this path, called the Lace Lichen Trail, are indeed brand new, other sections are the old trail rebuilt.  Before, it had lots of roots and bumps and narrow spots and winter creek beds.  It’s been improved to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. Now it’s hard and smooth and wide, some little bridges.  For the first time, people in wheelchairs can move with ease through this mysterious forest, where feathery lace lichen droops from the branches of Monterey pine. The trail is better for parents too – they can now smoothly wheel their kids in strollers, as the smell of the sea and the roar of the waves beckons them westward.  And all walkers are safer than before, since the trail, which used to be shorter, now extends with brand new sections all the way from park entrance to the sea. No more need to walk along the road.

If life - and marriage - are journeys, we surely know that these paths have bumps, gullies, narrow spots and some danger, if only from distracted drivers. 

So it is definitely a blessing when folks open up a new path for us.  What a gift to find a route that welcomes us all, safer, with bridges, a way for wanderings and discovery, whatever our age or ability.

Thanks, California taxpayers and Point Lobos Foundation for this blessed new path.

(Come on one of our Blue Theology youth mission trips or adult retreats and feel the Spirit on this new path.  Also, I now post these Wednesday “Tide-ings” at <> as well as here.)           

Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Fish for Depth and Mystery

To Fish for Depth and Mystery

For centuries, native Ohlone women ground acorns in these deep granite holes.  I took a friend to see this rock today - it’s now at the edge of Point Lobos State Reserve, overlooking Carmel Bay, with the Carmelite Monastery in the distance - and we could almost hear those long ago women and their children chatting and singing as they prepared this essential food.  (California grinding stones are often in places safe for children to play around, since it was women’s work, and with a good view, since it is long tedious work.)

What is now Point Lobos State Reserve was a rich source of food and community for the Ohlone, and many are the food prep areas, like this one.   Many also are the separate sheltered cooking areas, safe for fires.  Those we call middens, now marked by ashy soil and broken shells (yummy abalone served alongside the acorn mush.)  Point Lobos was a safe place, and bountiful.

The barbed wire fence was erected later, in the 1930’s, to mark the park boundary.  Around the same time a family paid to have the Carmelite Monastery across the bay built for cloistered nuns.  They still pray and sing the daily hours.

When Sally Smith did the pen and ink drawings for my book collection of many poets  inspired by Point Lobos, we chose this drawing for the chapter of “spiritual” poems, the ones not about cypress or otters, but those evoking mystery and death.  The history of Point Lobos is not just one of bounty and safety.  The barbed wire reminded me of another shameful part of Point Lobos history, the forced interment of longtime park resident families, like the Kodanis and Obatas and many other local Japanese American citizens, during WWII.

Ohlone women still come to Point Lobos, and when they see this rock, that wire fence, and the monastery beyond, they probably recall their own people’s forcible removal, and the miserable legacy of Junipero Serra’s missions, another American genocide.  (Already we have local protests of Serra’s upcoming canonization.)

We titled the book “Dancing on the Brink of the World” which is a line from an old Ohlone song, one probably sung by those grinding women and children.  They lived, literally on the brink, on the edge of the continent, atop high sea cliffs.  And they also stood on the brink of eradication, death by fences and friars. 

It’s all the same granite: Point Lobos cliffs, this grinding stone and the walls of the church.  It’s hard, and lasts.