Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thou Swell

Thou Swell

Waves wave.  Swells swell.  Oceans are never still, always moving.  Shaking out a bedsheet explains it all.

I am loving the book “How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea” by Tristan Gooley, a quirky British explorer and navigator.

Here is how he explains that a wave is actually not water in motion.  A wave is energy moving through the water.  Like the bedsheet. 

“There are three types of waves – ripples, waves, and swell.  Swell is best thought of as waves that have enough energy to travel well beyond the place of their origin.  Ripples will struggle to reach the far side of a pond if the wind dies away, waves will only travel a few miles without a supporting wind, but swell will cross great oceans – thousands of miles is common.”

“All water waves – ripples, waves and swell, take energy from one place to another.  In the oceans there are only three main sources of wave energy: the moon, earthquakes and the wind.  The most common is the wind – it passes over the water, imparts some of its energy to the water, this energy moves in a direction, and this is visible as a wave.”

“This idea of waves taking energy from one place to another is important, because it is very tempting to think of waves as the water moving horizontally, but that isn’t what is happening. 

“Think of shaking out a bedsheet.  The shaking makes a visible wave that takes lots of energy from one end to another as it travels.   The force that is giving it the energy, in this case, one pairs of hands, moves it to another place, in this case a whipping sound at the other end of the sheet.  But, the sheet itself hasn’t move horizontally, only up and down. 

“Watch any waves out at sea and your eyes will tend to follow an individual wave as it travels, giving the impression that the water is moving with it.  But focus on anything floating on the surface, like seaweed, a piece of wood, or a bird, and you will see how they stay in the same place, as the wave’s energy moves them up and down, but not along.”

Wave, shaken sheet, even Holy Spirit – we picture these as individual things, but they are really energy moving through things.  We know this when we use “wavy words” to describe the energy of fullness and passion.  “My heart swells with love.”   “I am feeling waves of emotion.”   “A ripple of excitement ran through the crowd.”  Moving energy, filling up, spilling over.

“Fountain fullness.”  Those are the “wavy words” that St. Bonaventure, Franciscan mystic and theologian, uses to describe God. 

We all can float In this wavy fountain fullness, trusting God’s wet and wonderful energy to move in and through us.  Thou swell.
“Keep Tahoe Blue” is a popular bumper sticker.  Our Blue Theology Mission Station tries to “Keep God Blue” by helping people of faith connect with ocean stewardship and spiritualty. Take part in our youth and adult mission trips and retreats, read and share these Wednesday “Blue Theology Tide-ings,” and come to our newest project, a May 9 Blue Theology Retreat and Resource Day for Clergy and Religious Educators in Pacific Grove.

“Ocean Swell” painting by David Gayda.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poetry is an Island

Poetry is an Island

“My first friend was the sea,” is a line from a Derek Walcott poem.  In his 1992 Nobel Prize address, he said “Poetry is an island that breaks away from the main.”  

Poet, playwright, painter, Walcott died last week beside his first friend, where he painted this watercolor, in his birth and death place, the island of Saint Lucia, in the Antilles. 

The sea is the muse of many a poet.  Ocean depth, motion and mystery compelled Walcott, and so many others, to put poetic pen to paper.  Here’s just one of Walcott’s many sea poems – check them out, and the documentary “Poetry is an Island” about his life.

After the Storm

There are so many islands!
As many islands as the stars at night
on that branched tree from which meteors are shaken
like falling fruit around the schooner Flight. 

But things must fall, and so it always was,
on one hand Venus, on the other Mars;
fall, and are one, just as this earth is one
island in archipelagoes of stars. 

My first friend was the sea. Now, is my last.
I stop talking now. I work, then I read,
cotching under a lantern hooked to the mast.
I try to forget what happiness was, 

and when that don't work, I study the stars.
Sometimes is just me, and the soft-scissored foam
as the deck turn white and the moon open
a cloud like a door, and the light over me 

is a road in white moonlight taking me home.
Shabine sang to you from the depths of the sea. 

In his Nobel speech, “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory,” he describes the “dialects of my archipelago;”

“Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent….

“Poetry, which is perfection's sweat but which must seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue's brow, combines the natural and the marmoreal; it conjugates both tenses simultaneously: the past and the present, if the past is the sculpture and the present the beads of dew or rain on the forehead of the past.

“There is the buried language and there is the individual vocabulary, and the process of poetry is one of excavation and of self-discovery. Tonally the individual voice is a dialect; it shapes its own accent, its own vocabulary and melody in defiance of an imperial concept of language, the language of Ozymandias, libraries and dictionaries, law courts and critics, and churches, universities, political dogma, the diction of institutions.

“Poetry is an island that breaks away from the main. The dialects of my archipelago seem as fresh to me as those raindrops on the statue's forehead, not the sweat made from the classic exertion of frowning marble, but the condensations of a refreshing element, rain and salt.”

Groups that come to Pacific Grove for our Blue Theology mission trips and pilgrimages read and write poetry at Point Lobos State Reserve, and like Walcott we often experience the sea as our first friend and home.   May 9 is a special Blue Theology Retreat and Resource Day for clergy and religious educators, with a sustainable seafood lunch.  Dive in!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Cousin Sal

My Cousin Sal

Here’s a lovely photo of my cousin Sal.  Actually Sal is your cousin, too. 

Sal is the cousin of every human, because Sal, like us, is a chordate, with the very beginnings of a backbone.  Sal’s a salp (hence the name), which is a kind of tunicate, also called sea squirts.  Tunicates in their very early stages have a tiny backbone and look like a tadpole.  (So do humans at that stage.)  Sal might seem more like a jelly fish or a sea slug, but Sal’s branch in the tree of life is very near ours, the chordates.

Hi, Cuz!

As I got to know Sal (we have tunicates at the Aquarium) I found I liked Sal a lot.  My kind of cousin – simple yet very complex, liberated from old fashioned categories, and trying to make the world a better place. 

In Sal there is neither male or female; Sal’s a sequential hermaphrodite, beginning as female then becoming male.  But Sal’s even more complex than that.  As Sal develops, there are stages when Sal is one solitary individual.  But then s/he transforms into what biologists call a “colony,” one organism made up of many many interconnected, mutually dependent organisms, divided into different tasks, unable to live without each other. 

So Sal is made up of many different members, but is also one body.  Some of the individual parts do the feeding, some the breathing (pulsing water through each unit for oxygen), some the motion (together propelling the whole colony.)  If all were the eating parts, where would be the motion?  (This photo shows both the one and the many.)

While Sal lives in the deep sea Sal does not curse the darkness, but rather brings its own light into the darkness.  Sal bioluminesces, creating its own light.  Indeed Sal’s a particular kind of salp called a pyrosome, which means literally “fire body.”  Sal can light up the deep dark ocean for 50 feet.  19th century scientist Thomas Huxley and many other sailors have seen Sal on an ocean night.   "I have just watched the moon set in all her glory, and looked at those lesser moons, the beautiful Pyrosoma, shining like white-hot cylinders in the water."

We often insist on giving living things a restricting label, forcing them into separate categories – male/female, vertebrate/invertebrate, individual/group, dark/light.  Sal won’t let us.  S/he is all of that, both, everything.  And more.  Thanks, Cousin Sal, for transcending our limiting labels.  Thanks also for your deep beauty.

Photo by Nick Hobgood of a pyrosome off East Timor. 

We have salps in Monterey Bay also.  Visit our Blue Theology Mission Station for a family reunion with your tunicate cousins. May 9 a special Blue Theology Day for clergy and religious educators with a sustainable seafood lunch included.  Still some summer openings here for youth groups and adult pilgrimages.