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.