Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Quiet Safari

The Quiet Safari

We Aquarium guides are talkers.  We always have something to say, ever ready with the accurate scientific fact, the helpful conservation tip, quick directions to the bathroom.

But we were left speechless, 15 of us from our Thursday shift, along with spouses and friends, when we took a two-hour trip on Monday with the great tour company “Elkhorn Slough Safari.” Their skilled captain and naturalist recommended a trip during a very low tide on the mudflats and tidal waterways and the rarely revealed eelgrass of this vast precious Monterey Bay wetlands.

We’ve been well trained by the Aquarium – we think we know all there is to know about these animals and their habitats.  But when we saw those many hundreds of birds, otters, seals, sea lions in their natural habitats, we just watched.  Couples whispered – look, a merganser.  Old friends shared binoculars and quietly IDed birds.  Click click of fancy cameras.  But hardly a noise.

I think of safaris as jolly noisy affairs, happy companions oohing and aahing. But our guides reminded us that the Marine Mammal Protection Act forbids animal disturbance.  And that we were more likely to see birds close up if we stayed quiet.  Of course we oohed and aahed.  But so gently, no bragging about seeing it first or how long our bird list was.

The slough kept us kind and affectionate.  It was thrilling to see amazing birds and mammals in their own homes.  But as special for me was the mood in the boat.

Sloughs do that, oceans and coastlines do that.  They calm us down and focus us up. 

Every Thursday morning you can find us gabbing away.  But this trip reminded us, from Ecclesiastes, that there is a time to speak, and time to refrain from speaking.  

Robert Sardello, in his book Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness, writes: ‘Silence knows how to hide. It gives a little and sees what we do with it….In Silence everything displays its depth, and we find that we are a part of the depth of everything around us.’”

We still have a few open dates for summer 2018 Monterey Bay Blue Theology adult pilgrimages and youth group service trips –  We encourage our groups to add an extra Elkhorn Slough trip to their visit, a soft, silent spiritual safari. 
I post these Blue Theology Tide-ings every Wednesday here and at 
Please hold me in prayer this Monday as I speak at the big, creative North Hollywood Christian Church on “The Ocean and Climate Change” as part of their Earth Care series. 

Elkhorn Slough photos: Becky Stamski, Steven Lonhardt/ NOAA MBNMS

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ocean is a Call to Worship and Other Sea Shanties

Ocean is a Call to Worship and Other Sea Shanties

Do you have a favorite ocean song?  Beyond the Sea.  La Mer.  Under the Sea.  Octopus’ Garden.  Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. 

Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, under the sea.

When youth and adults come to our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove for a service trip or pilgrimage, we always sing Dan Damon’s great hymn, “Ocean is a Call to Worship.”

Ocean is a call to worship
every morning, evening;
in its rising, falling,
hear the Spirit breathing.

When your people scatter,
broken, bruised and battered,
whisper on the waves and call us home. (Refrain)

When our temples totter,
Christ of wind and water,
calm the earth and soothe our shattered nerves. (Refrain)

When I'm listening, walking,
praying needs no talking,
wonder at the depth and breadth of love. (Refrain)
Check out Dan’s webpage ( and look at this sweet You Tube video ( of folks from the church where he is pastor, First United Methodist in Point Richmond, CA, singing and dancing the movement of wave and wind and water.

The tune, aptly titled “Santa Cruz,” hauntingly evokes “its rising, falling.”  We’ve recently been adding body movements to the song as we sing it in the church sanctuary before we set out on our coastline walk to the Aquarium.  Then on the way home we sing it again, with motions, on the trail overlooking the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  From sanctuary to sanctuary, a wet anthem and dance.

We have a new project – a Blue Theology Book of Worship with songs, prayers, liturgies. Many of our groups have written prayers of thanksgiving or lament for God’s blue wonder.  “Ocean is a Call to Worship” will lead it off, but we welcome suggestions and submissions. 

Ocean is a call to worship, every morning, evening.
In its rising, falling, hear the Spirit breathing.

Photo from fabulous hike this week at Wilder Ranch north of Santa Cruz.  I post these “Tide-ings” every Wednesday here and at  We are booking service trips and pilgrimages for Spring Break and Summer 2018.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Most Intelligent Animal?

The Most Intelligent Animal?

“I want to see 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.

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 20 years ago.  The giant Pacific octopus, I’ve said many a time to guests, is the most intelligent of the invertebrates, recognizes people, expresses emotion, can learn new, faster ways to get dinner…..

But recently the great Aquarium education staff taught us volunteers a new idea: that each and every 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 the three jobs we all have: find dinner, not be someone else’s dinner, and be part of a family.  That’s my life also, and I and all my fellow critters have enough intelligence to pull it off.

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 particular gifts I have.  Thanks be to God.

I wrote this post three years ago and share it again today as I look and hope for more intelligence on our planet. As we say to all our Blue Theology groups – God gave us brains for a reason, and is happy when we use them.  Monterey Bay is pretty amazing right now – come and visit!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Jesus Gets Wet

Jesus Gets Wet
Jesus was a land mammal, but when he got wet, special God things happened. 
His unusual baptism we remembered this past Sunday, soaked in the river alongside a multitude, then still dripping, a shout out from God – my beloved!  But Jesus was wet with God from the beginning - nine miraculous floating months in Mary’s womb.  For three years he seemed to hug the shore of the Sea of Galilee, hanging out with fishers, telling stories about abundant catches, sleeping in boats, calming waves and walking on water.  Even at the inland dusty well, he and a Samaritan woman quenched each others’ thirsts with life changing water. 
Jesus’ formative wet experience, his baptism by John in the River Jordan, is pictured in this 5th century mosaic on the dome of a small baptism building in Ravenna Italy. Like many Byzantine icons it depicts a trinity, but instead of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, it’s John, Jesus and the River Jordan.
Yes, that old guy on the left is how the local pagans depicted their river gods, complete with crab claw crown and river reed.  From Old Man River’s jar at the far left flows the sacred baptizing water.  The artist was probably reaching out to pagan converts to say, yes, your River God is here also in this baptistery, where you, like Jesus, will find new life in water.
Jesus has no clothes on!  I saw this mosaic in 1999 with my then 12 year old daughter – we were both a little shocked.  He’s not just naked, he’s young, beardless, a little like a chubby teen.  He’s getting soaked not just in the deep waters, but from above - that descending Spirit dove, one author says, “is spraying lustral water from its beak.” 
This is my beloved wet son.
At the Blue Theology Mission Station on the shores of Monterey Bay we celebrate all connections between things spiritual and things wet, with oceanside pilgrimages, beach service projects and deep immersion into God’s call to care for all creation. 
For us every day is baptism day, when God saturates us in the Spirit.  Come and Sea!
__________  We are booking for 2018 youth and adult service trips and pilgrimages by the sea, and clergy renewal times.  Thanks for your encouragement last week on my idea of compiling some of these weekly “Blue Theology Tide-ings” posts into a book.  Stay tuned!