Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wet Spiritual Sitting

Wet Spiritual Sitting

I feel closest to God at the Monterey Bay Aquarium when I am sitting down.

I like to sit right down on the floor and admire the fish.  Or lie on my back looking up.  I feel God there, as I pretend I too am way down deep and looking up.  We invite our youth group and adult visitors to sit or lie down and “con-sid-er” God in the ocean, which means to “sit with” God, as we, recumbent, celebrate and honor the wet Holy Spirit. 

I’ve been writing here these past weeks about various ways to have a “spiritual visit” to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  That’s what we offer on our Blue Theology pilgrimage service trips.  Try this at any zoo or park or on a hike in your own community.  Scroll back to see my previous posts about finding quiet, quotations, and icons.  (Join our Blue Theology Mission Station Facebook Group or Page and get a notification of every new post.)

Today, the topic is sitting.  Religious traditions teach so many spiritual “practices.” I invite you to sit, wherever you are.

On retreat at the Camaldolese Monastery in Big Sur I have sat in my single room and read the words of their 10th century founder St. Romuald.  “Sit in your cell as in paradise.  Put the whole world behind you and forget it.  Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.  The path you must follow is in the Psalms.”

With our Blue Theology groups at the Aquarium we invite them to sit.  A great spot is the fish roundabout.  Ignore other visitors and just lie down on the floor and watch that big school of anchovies swim around and around above us. 

Usually when we are at a place of entertainment we want to keep moving!!  Let’s see more!  Experience! What’s next!

No.  Sit.  Stop. 

With my friend Meg and her little baby we spread out a blanket she had ready in her pack and with the fabulous little Colette, we just sat on the Aquarium’s strong hard floor, watched the crowd go by, admired a beautiful Ansel Adams photograph on the wall, noticed other folks slowing down as they saw us sitting.  We prayed in thanks.  We had been a bit stressed.  This calmed us all down. 

On a different day, I sat with a group of ministers on a retreat day at the Open Sea Exhibit and quietly waited, watching the fish from down deep (pictured.) We call this sitting exercise “Holy dry scuba diving.”

It’s tempting at the Aquarium to rush and run– how much can I see?  I recommend slowing down, find a place to just sit and watch, see and experience.   Pray with the fish.  Pray with the people.

I sometimes SIT on Saturday mornings for an hour with the Monterey Bay Zen Center.  “The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.”

Last year I wrote here about a Blue Theology group from the San Lorenzo United Church of Christ that spent a day at the Aquarium for a spiritual retreat.  We decided to “consider” the ocean, ie, to sit with it.  Here’s what we experienced.  Come – sit with us……


“Find a time, every day, when you will ‘consider’ – when you will look deeply, attentively, thoughtfully at one thing. Don’t do anything else but that one thing. It may be looking intensely at the leaf of a tree, or a feather, or an icon, or one or two words from Scripture.

“Don’t move on. Stay with it. Look into it. Try to see – to see its inscape.

“You may find it very difficult at first. You may get very bored. But keep looking at it.

“It’s charged – charged with the grandeur of God.”

Every morning I receive a daily email “Word” from the brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic community in Cambridge, Mass.

Early Saturday May 20 I read Br. Geoffrey Tristam’s encouragement that we “consider.”  I learned a new word, “inscape.”  I vowed to consider deeply that day.

By 9:30 I was at our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove, greeting 15 folks from the San Lorenzo Community Church UCC who had come to spend a day doing ocean stewardship and spirituality. It was an intergenerational group, from kids to grandparents.

Before we set out for a day of learning and serving, I gave them each (as we do each group) a Blue Theology backpack and notepad.

Ten year old Owen wrote carefully all day in his notebook, as we took a pilgrimage walk by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, stopped four times to offer prayers of wow, help, sorry and thank you, talked at the Aquarium about the amazing diversity in God’s creation and found too much stuff at our beach cleanup that did not belong in nature. 

I told them how I had read Br. Geoffrey on “consider” that very morning.  I said the word’s derivation was “to sit with.”  I encouraged them to consider, to sit with, God’s ocean and one small thing in it, most certainly charged with God’s grandeur.

Owen got it.  He noted it.  He did it.  He sat with.  (Actually he considered way more than one thing.  He considered the harbor seal moms and pups, the hammerhead sharks, the sea otters in the bay, and more.) 

He considered and he was “considerate” of others and of ocean life.  He gave me hope.

We love having individuals and groups of all ages spend a day or more at the Blue Theology Mission Station – we hope you’ll consider it.  I post these weekly Wednesday devotionals here and on Facebook.
Be in touch. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Words to Live By

Words to Live By

“Find the quotation printed on the wall of the Monterey Bay Aquarium written by a rabbi.  The one by a Beatle.  A President. A Nobel poet.”  That’s an invitation we give our Blue Theology youth and adult pilgrimage groups as we lead them on a “spiritual tour” there.  (Answers below.)

Naturally we find inspiring words by scientists as well – Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Rachel Carson, Terry Tempest Williams, Loren Eiseley.  But the range and variety of authors goes far beyond science.

Why did the exhibit designers include all these poetic quotations?  There’s a long history of etching profound words on public buildings (government, memorial, cathedral, grave, etc.)   I like that the Aquarium (whose mission statement, is “To inspire conservation of the ocean”) inspires visitors not just with amazing fish and informative facts, but with poetic words on the wall, and the profound people who said them.  Not just our brains but our hearts and souls are opened to the ocean’s beauty and need for protection.

We react differently to these wall words.  We might say:
-Love the quote, but who is that person?  (Anne Stevenson, the poet whose words are pictured above. Google “North Sea off Carnoustie” to read the whole poem.)
-Wow – I didn’t know that person said that.  (Andy Warhol)
-They have a quote from that cool cat? (Jimi Hendrix, his quote now gone, was with the psychedelic jellyfish exhibit.)
-I’m going to ponder that one for a while. (Terry Tempest Williams) 
-Oh, I love that song, humming it the rest of the visit.  (The Beatle)

A study by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums found that 15-20% of all visitors are what they named “Spiritual Pilgrims” or “Seekers,” visiting not so much to see the biggest shark or to bring an out of town guest, but to feel an introspective connection to the larger world and inspiration on how to care for the ocean.  Quotations help make that connection.

As I try to put together a brochure or app on “How to have a quiet spiritual visit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” I am including all the quotations. 

They are like prayer prompts or sacred texts. 

Which ones do you like?  What would you add?

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”  Terry Tempest Williams

“I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade.”  Ringo Starr

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”  Loren Eiseley

“Invisibly, where the casual observer would say there is no life, it lies deep in…burrows and tubes and passageways.  It tunnels into solid rock and bores…keeps alive the sense of continuing creation and of the relentless drive of life.”  Rachel Carson

“The tides are in our veins.”  Robinson Jeffers

“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.”  Jacques-Yves Cousteau

“I spin on the circle of wave upon wave of the Sea.”  Pablo Neruda

“The sea is as near as we come to another world.”  Anne Stevenson

“In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”  Henry David Thoreau

 “In one drop of water are found the secrets of all the endless oceans.”  Kahlil Gibran

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”  Rabbi Hillel

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”  Aristotle

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”  Margaret Mead

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  Andy Warhol

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”  John F. Kennedy

Come for the quotations, stay for the pilgrimage hikes, service projects, inspiration and good company, for a one-day to one-week Blue Theology experience in Pacific Grove.  I post these Wednesday devotionals on ocean stewardship and spirituality here and at