Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mary (and Joseph's) Brood

Mary (And Joseph’s) Brood

And there were in the same ocean, mouth brooders, abiding in the sea, keeping watch over their children by night. 

This jawfish dad has a mouth full of babies!  Talk about a caring father.   Many fish are “mouth brooders,” often the dads.  Those circles with white eyes – that’s his brood of babies.  For a week or more after he and mom have created fertile eggs, dad holds the brood, gently, safely, inside his mouth. Periodically he carefully opens up so the babies can aerate and eat a little, then closes up for safety.  And no food for dad during this gestation week.

We think “to brood” only means to be a grumpy or anxious worrier.  But the original meaning is, like “breed,” to sit on (like a hen) or hold carefully your “brood” of fragile young until they can live on their own. 

I thought all fish reproduced by “broadcasting” their young, just shoot egg and sperm out into the water and hope they meet.  End of parenting. 

But this jawfish taught me that brooders are slower, more patient and gentle.  Their broods are smaller than the broadcasters’ but more likely to survive.

I’ve been sharing various “ocean birth narratives” in these weekly posts during this Advent season as part of my Blue Theology Ocean ministry.  The whole universe is groaning with new birth this season; maybe whales or molly fish (last week) can show us how pregnantly possible is all of creation.

In the Christmas story new life comes from both broadcasters and brooders.  Angels shout from the heavens, shepherds glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen.  Broadcast and shout out the good news and it will spread and take root.

At our Blue Theology retreats here on Monterey Bay for youth and adults we tell parables of these broadcasted multitudes; a fish goes forth to spawn, the prodigal spawner.

But we also preach the good news of brooding, how we are led beside the still waters, our souls restored by the spirit hovering over the deep.  

Rereading this other birth narrative, I see that Mary is a brooder, pondering, treasuring these things in her heart.  Joseph too, I imagine, like these mouth brooders, a dad come later to parenting, is just as caring and gentle with his brood.  And both of them, like all parents, sacrifice their own needs for those of their brood.  (Which can involve a little brooding of the anxious sort!)

And there were in the same ocean, mouth brooders, abiding in the sea, keeping watch over their children by night.  Blessed new birth to all holy brooders.

Plan for a Blue Theology Retreat by Monterey Bay in 2018!  We are booking youth groups, adult or intergenerational groups, and guided personal retreats, all year round.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pregnant Molly

Pregnant Molly

I know how you feel, Molly, my sister.  Your back aches, abdomen stretched tight, churning inside you - will this pregnancy ever end?  You are really ready to give birth to your babies!  Not long until Birth Day. 

This molly fish will soon give birth to as many as 150 babies, all born “live,” meaning fully developed, ready to go, “viviparous.” Many fish are “oviparous,” laying eggs that hatch later and far from Mom.  But mollies, guppies, perch, some sharks all give “live birth.”

I love how many different ways there are to have babies in God’s creation.  Lay eggs or give live birth, sexual or asexual reproduction, do it just once in your life (octopus) or over and over (mollies), start birthing at 8 weeks (mollies) or 20 years (loggerhead turtles.)  There’s no end to all the ways new life blooms. God clearly loves diversity and variety in all things, even birth.

At this “pregnant” Christmas time of year we here at the Blue Theology Mission Station ( are telling wet birth narratives from oceans and rivers. Last week we shared the gospel of pregnant whale travelers.

Actually, all birth stories are wet.  We viviparous human children of God emerge from 9 months in an inner sea, our mother’s amniotic fluid that is the same salinity as the ocean.  Creation’s eggy births are also wet, fed by juicy nutritious yolks.  31 years ago I had a blessed Advent pregnancy and when my “waters” broke, it wasn’t just Norah that was wet. 

“Molly” is of course not just the name of this tiny fish, but a nickname for Mary.  This season we remember a Mary who, like this molly, bravely waited, not knowing what exactly was coming next, but trusting that it was good and right.  And wet.  Even in dry Palestine, on that holy night, Mary and Jesus were wet.  Stay wet, my friends.


I post these devotions on ocean spirituality and stewardship every Wednesday here and at, as part of my Ministry for Blue Theology.  I also write a separate weekly column on “Ocean People” at The Back Road CafĂ©, and last week, inspired by my whale tale, I wrote about the “friendly whales” of Baja and Don Pachito Mayoral, the first human they reached out to in 1972.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Young Pregnant Travelers

Young Pregnant Travelers

‘Tis the season when young pregnant mothers must leave home to give birth. 

Mary and Joseph have a long dangerous trip south, walking from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Will they find a warm place and will they arrive safe before the baby comes?  Can Mary and the baby survive the birth and then the journey home, with a forced detour to Egypt?  What dangers lurk on these long roads?

Pregnant California grey whales also head south this time of year, likewise in search of a warm safe birth place. Another dangerous long pregnant trip, swimming day and night, eating very little, from Alaska to Mexico, a tiring journey, past hungry orcas and entangling old fishing nets.  They left their Bering Sea summer feeding grounds in September, and this past week we saw the first ones passing Monterey Bay and off Pt. Lobos. Will they get to the warm safe lagoons of Baja before their babies come?  In the days of commercial whaling, the ships, like robbers on a Galilean road, waited for the pregnant moms’ predictable arrival and the lagoons turned red with blood.  Might those days return?  And will the whales make it safe back north in the spring past the nets and orcas?

Pregnancy and birth are a dangerous journey even if you stay home.  Many of us mothers recall the scary unknowns of pregnancy, the middle of the night labor.  Mercifully most of our stories don’t approach the forced marches of Mary and Joseph or the 12,000 mile round trip of the grey whales.

Rev. Elizabeth Hambrick-Stowe wrote a great book called “Expecting,” about pregnancy and faith.  She says, “We Christians are a pregnant people.” We experience God at work in us, calling us to bring new life to the world.  In this season of travel and new birth I hope we all arrive warm and safe, delivering new hope to the world. 

May we, like the baby in Mary’s womb, and this grey whale, leap for joy.

This Advent season I’ll be sharing weekly ocean birth stories here at the Blue Theology Mission Station.. We Christians celebrate one holy birth, but I believe every birth is a miracle, and that God manifests herself whenever new life appears.  May this Advent bring all kinds of miraculous new birth to you, and to the sea.  I post these Blue Theology Tide-ings about ocean stewardship and spirituality every Wednesday.