Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Laurel's Ocean Prayer of Lament

Laurel’s Ocean Prayer of Lament

When we pick up and dispose of the first candy wrapper
I think “Oh good, the beach is already happier.”

As we hunt down and pick up the third rubber band
How glad I am that we’re lending a hand
To the turtles in water and seabirds on land
Keeping plastic from their stomachs, keeping plastic from the sand

When we pick up the tenth tiny piece of styrofoam
A flip-flop, a razor, a light bulb, a comb
I’m reminded that our impact, if you’ll pardon the expression,
Is a drop in the ocean; barely an impression

We drop the one hundredth cigarette butt in the bag
If only people considered what happens after they take the last drag
Chemicals that poison and materials that last
For centuries upon centuries, yet discarded so fast

By the time we collect the thousandth bit of plastic
My mind boggled, heart aching, I can’t help but ask if
There is hope that we can get ourselves under control
That we teach and preach conservation, of and for all

And that we see that our purpose is not domination
But, here in the sacred universe, participation

This poem’s author, Laurel Anderson, is a member of the youth group from Foothills UCC, Los Altos, who spent last week doing Blue Theology (ocean stewardship and spirituality) here in Pacific Grove.

She read the poem as part of the sermon in our Sunday closing worship with the congregation of the Christian Church of Pacific Grove which hosts these Blue Theology groups.  She and 6 other members of the Foothills group shared prayers they had written that spoke of: “Wow” “Help” “I’m Sorry” “Lament” and “Thank You.”  All were moving.

Laurel volunteered (Saturday night!) to do the Lament Prayer.  Her model was those many painfully detailed Old Testament Psalms of Lament– “How Long, O God?” 

Thanks Laurel for naming the pain and sin of trash, and lifting up how our redemption is participation.

(Pic is from the beach cleanup a book group in Hong Kong did after a big river flood covered their beaches with trash.  Finding a Google Image of “beach trash” means seeing much pain and sin.  Check out for more about our youth service trips and adult pilgrimages by the sea.)

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?