Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gathering of the Waters

Gathering of the Waters

One look at this photo tells you I’ve been doing Blue Theology for a long time – this was 2002! 

The occasion was a big Ocean Fair to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the federal designation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  I was serving on the Citizens Advisory Council for the Sanctuary at the time and offered to gather interfaith religious leaders and lead a “Blessing of the Sanctuary” as part of the celebrations. I assured the federal NOAA staff that I was a firm believer in the separation of church and state, but if they wanted some kind of ritual alongside all the speeches I’d be glad to put it together.  Happily they welcomed the idea, and later featured this photo in the news reports – we do look good!

My dear friend, Catholic priest Scott, (center) brought a conch shell and burning sage in an abalone and some sweet acolytes.  John the Ohlone leader brought his sacred staff.    I brought my blue blessing bowl.  Everyone brought readings about water from their sacred texts.

Representatives from many of the 15 National Marine Sanctuaries were there, Atlantic, Pacific, Great Lakes.  I had asked them, and others I knew who were coming, to bring a small vial of water with them from their home tap, creek, river, lake, or ocean.  40 or so folks came up onto the stage, kids, federal employees, solemnly said where their water was from and poured it into the common bowl.  I held it up and said a prayer of thanksgiving blessing on the water. 

Then we processed, clergy and acolytes and kids and workers, with the bowl held aloft, through Monterey’s historic park, past the old Customs House, down to this little beach by the wharf.  We heard many sacred readings about water, and then I poured the water from the bowl slowly back into the bay, the sanctuary, the holy place.

From many places far and wide, the drops came together as one, and then we returned the gift, all back to its source, mother ocean.

My friend Nashwan, right, brought water from the farthest away – Mecca, most sacred place of his Moslem faith.   This was just a year after 9/11, and Nashwan had visited many of our churches patiently explaining Islam and its wide landscape.  When I left the little beach after the service I looked back down and there were Nashwan and Ann, the president of the synagogue, deep in conversation.  Gathered together by the one water?

I’m being installed as Community Minister for Blue Theology in 10 days, July 10, 2pm, at La Selva UCC, south of Santa Cruz, having finally figured out how to have my denomination formally authorize me for this long time ministry.   All are invited. 

We’ll begin the worship service with a Gathering of the Waters.  Same blue bowl.  To build the community.  And so we can remember again that all water is one, a cycle of blessing and bounty.  This ministry of 15 years will enter a new phase, a new stream, a new current, a new wave.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me.....

I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me….

“….Get Into Your Sanctuary This Weekend!”  came the email invitation from

OK, I love going to the House of the Lord, but why is the federal government urging me to go to church?  Some right wing plot, or a breach of the First Amendment?

No, they mean my NATIONAL MARINE Sanctuary, because this weekend, June 25-26, is the second annual NOAA “Get Into Your Sanctuary” weekend.

They are right, of course, about the ocean being a sanctuary, a holy place. What a great way to worship, to feel religious and spiritual, by getting wet and sandy, having fun, swimming and diving and surfing and boating, seeing wonderful sea creatures.  How great thou art, oh government, to call our amazing nationwide system of marine park reserves “Sanctuaries.”  They too are holy homes of the divine. 

Or you could just lie on the beach and pray and sleep.  Sing sea shanties.  So many ways to say Thank You God, for oceans and water and air.

The Sanctuary Weekend is cosponsored by “Every Kid in a Park,” another federal effort to encourage active participation in the great outdoors.  When President Obama was in Yosemite last week he reminded us of his two year offer (ends August 31, 2016) to every 4th grader and their family of free admission to all national parks.  The Yosemite rangers told him over 5000 4th graders have already come there free, and that over 1100 of them who came from nearby Merced County had never been to Yosemite. 

Obama introduced the plan with this familiar phrase, “No matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks, our monuments, our lands, our waters – these places are your birthright as Americans.”

So any of you who work with 4th graders, including church school teachers  - go to <> and download the cool lesson plans and the forms for the free passes for the kids and their families, and then go to a national park! 

Or visit a marine sanctuary!  (They’re mostly free already.)

I recommend visiting your church sanctuary this Sunday too, but if you have to choose, I’d say, get outdoors, get wet, breath deep, say thanks.

(We are beginning a busy summer of youth groups and adult retreats at our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove and we’ll be spending time both in our lovely sanctuary and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Still some room in August.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Christ of the Abyss

Christ of the Abyss

“If I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there….” (Psalm 139)

“Christ of the Abyss” is an underwater statue in 50 feet of Mediterranean water near Portofino Italy.  It marks the place where a diver died in 1947, the first Italian diver to use SCUBA.  His friends placed it there a few years later, and it is still often visited.  You can see how it has been  well anointed by ocean sponges and corals.  Il Cristo degli Abissi.

There’s a replica in Florida waters, caste from the same bronze, that’s easier to see - you need only snorkel, not dive, in just 10 feet of water near Key Largo.  Divers placed this one as well in honor of another beloved friend.  That plaque reads:

“If I take the wings of the mornings and swell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.  In memoriam.”

Love the typo!  Swell, not dwell.  All these things happen in the deep, the abyss.  Dwelling, Swelling, Upwelling.  Even there we will find God, even there we will be held fast.

“Abyss” is Greek for “deep.”  In some Bible translations abyss means the chaos waters of creation, the waters under the earth whence all rivers flow, the Hebrew word tehom (surging water-deep). The word has come to have a scary or negative meaning, abysmal.  But it’s just that deep source of all creation, all water, all life.

I’ve seen the same quotation from Psalm 139 carved on a lovely memorial bench at Pt. Lobos.  I sometimes get a little nervous about Bible quotes on state and federal property (eg Grand Canyon).  And of course in my need to be CORRECT I must point out that the Hebrew psalmist, writing long before Jesus, imagined a wet and wonderful Yahweh God in the uttermost parts of the sea, and would not have recognized this Christ figure in the depths.

But even with my nervousness and quibbles, I am still so moved by this statue.  (Google “Christ of the Abyss” to see more images.)  My sense of God is so often intellectual – My head confirms that of course God is everywhere.

But this statue takes me to a new deep place. Here is God/Christ submerged and covered with sponges!!  The raised arms, the calm presence, God breathing under water – such comfort.

Even here God holds fast and holds me fast.  Dive deep.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Our Bodies, Our Ocean

Our Bodies, Our Ocean

Is it just a coincidence that the ocean covers 70% of our planet, and our own bodies are 70% water?  Our planet is like a big beautiful wet body.  And our supposedly solid bodies have an ocean inside.

Look at the chart.  Our brains, blood, skin, lungs, and muscles are really wet!  If you are the average US weight, 155 lbs, you’re carrying around 13 quarts of water.

Why do our bodies need so much water?
It’s our basic building material. 70% (our favorite number) of all our body water is inside our  
Sweating and respiration.  Water regulates our internal body temperature.
Transformation and transportation. Our food gets metabolized and moved through our      bloodstream by all those bodily fluids.
Clean up on aisle 7!  Water cleans us out, flushing waste when we pee.
It protects us; we have liquid shock absorbers for our brains, spinal cords, and fetuses.
Water keeps our joints lubricated, so we can move pain free.
Spit! Saliva keeps us juicy and helps us digest.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like what the ocean does for our planet’s body?  The ocean is also a building block, our foundation and birthplace.  It regulates earth’s temperature, it’s constantly moving, it cleanses land and air, protects the deep, and in the water cycle it quenches all thirst. Reducing pain? Simply seeing the ocean eases my aches.  Our body, our ocean.

Today June 8 is World Ocean Day.  This year’s theme is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet” with a special focus on plastic pollution and reducing single use plastics.  (Two weeks ago I mentioned the 2010 theme – Dr. Seuss, “Small fish can make a whale of a difference!”)

Just as we try to keep our bodies healthy, we’ve got work to do to return our wet planet to health.  By 2050 there will the same amount of plastic in the ocean as there are fish, by weight.  1,124 million tons of each, fish and plastics.  (2,248,000,000,000 lbs. Lots of fish. WAY too much plastic.)  Talk about unhealthy!

I’ve lived almost 70 years (there’s that number again).  A lot of the plastic I’ve used is in the ocean. I’ve even had plastic floating in my inland waters from eating fish who have eaten plastics.  Nothing compared to the 95% of sea birds who have plastic in their stomachs, but we’re all suffering.

But we small fish can make a whale of a difference.  Surely I can reduce my plastic use, especially single use.  Maybe by 70%.  A good wet goal.

Let’s get all these bodies healthier.

(Our Blue Theology youth and adult groups pick up lots of plastic doing beach cleanups and they all receive free non-plastic water bottles, bags and pens – doing our part.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What Are They Good For?

What Are They Good For?

“By-the-wind sailors” is their common name, these 2-inch jellies that swarm in massive flotillas, carpeting a beach seemingly overnight in a vast blanket of fragile blue blobs.

“Velella Velella” is their scientific name.  “Vela” means “sail,” so it’s literally “little sail, little sail.”  Their tiny blue horizontal body is actually a colony, a large collection of mutually dependent organisms.  Its three-cornered sail, translucent and vertical, catches the wind and travels the seas; an armada can sail from the Caribbean to the shores of Europe.

We call them a “cosmopolitan” organism because they live all over the world. Our California beaches have welcomed them this month.  And so Aquarium visitors often ask about them; “We were at Asilomar Beach and saw millions of these blue blobs – what are they?”

I got that question the other day.  After I said “Valella Valella” and told them about the colony and the sails, the curious guest went on to ask me,

“And what are they good for?”

The great Aquarium education staff teaches us volunteers to honor all questioners and impart facts gently.  But I sometimes fail.  I replied, “What are you good for?”  (As I have once or twice said to kids who ask, “But what does it DO?” - “What do you do?”)

Apologizing to the questioner, I said that these jellies travel, they eat, they reproduce (complicatedly, in that colony, some are all female, some all male).  I said there is much we don’t know about them, where they come from and go.  In other words, they are much like us.  What are we all good for?   Traveling, eating, reproducing, living, dying.

One more thing about the great word  “Vela,” that thin fragile sail.  The same Latin word give us “veil” and “reveal.”

Maybe that is what they are good for - to lift the veil and impart a revelation, a re-vela-tion.  Their surprise appearances, this cosmopolitan colony, these fragile long distance sailors, let us in on a secret – that the sea is full of surprises, and occasionally the veil is lifted.

(I first posted this in May 2015.  They're back!  Sail on down to our Blue Theology Mission Station and see the valellas.)