The old man recounts his love for the sea, which he both reveres and fears, describing how the sea is referred to in feminine terms in Spanish by those who love it, and in masculine terms by those who respect it. The old man has certainly spent much of his life at sea, but we are all at the mercy of the sea in one way or another. It was created for our sustenance, can only be tamed by miracle, and deserves our respect.
June 8th is World Oceans day. This day is celebrated annually, but most likely passes people by. Naturally, the day is meant to be a day to step back and reflect about the human impact on the world we inhabit, much like Earth day. Posturing, however, or “taking action” one day a year, such as by switching lights off or posting a hashtag on social media, might not be the most effective way of pursuing action. Virtue signalling in this way risks shifting the focus from the importance of the things we are meant to reflect on. For Christians, World Oceans Day ought to be considered important, despite the fact that its organisers may not have a full and adequate conceptual apparatus to explain why.
In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. Moreover, His spirit is said to have “hovered above the face of the waters”. The first philosopher, Thales of Miletus, mused that the origins of the world, and indeed its entire substance, are made of water. The prime element in other words. It is easy to see why such considerations abound in descriptions of the dawn of life, as we depend on water to survive. About 60 per cent of the human body is made up of water, and hydration helps oxygen and nutrients reach cells – these are just a few examples of what water does. As with all things that God has created, water deserve our care, for it is a part of the ecosystem we depend on, and is thus part of our home. Yet, the most fascinating aspect of the role of the sea in relation to our shared home is that unlike the earth which has been toiled, had roads built on it, and seen tunnels dug into and through mountains, the sea has never been tamed.
An objection immediately comes to mind in relation to the last statement. Moses, through the power of God’s intervention, parted the Red Sea. And yet, this very fact itself points to the untameable nature of the sea – only God can momentarily bend its undomesticated power. St Peter walked on water, also seeming to suspend the laws of the seas permeability, but could only do so with faith. As soon as the faith wavered, even for an instant, he began to sink into the Sea of Galilee. The account in the Gospel’s of Mark, Matthew and John all speak of waves and wind distressing the sailing apostles. Anyone who has seen the sea roaring in bad weather is aware of the sublimity of the sight, and the respect which it commands. With this backdrop to the Gospel narrative in mind, the calming presence of a distant figure approaching the sailors, walking on the stormy waters, become even more potent. It takes the Divine to calm the sea. But the sea is all around us. The sea is a metaphor of our lives, which are ever changing, moody, even tumultuous. The Divine steps in to calm interior and external distress.
Approaching summer, as the sun rises and draws us to the beach, the human hubris is put to the test. Every year, around 320,000 people die of drowning. They approach the sea thinking waves are fun and that the tide is a mere geological fact that can be overcome. They have no idea about the dangers that the sea presents. Hemingway was well aware, explaining it in magnificent prose. In this, he follows the great Western literary canon, which begins at the sea with Homer, features prominently in Holy Scripture, and became an established part of the American literary tradition with Melville’s Moby Dick. For thousands of years the sea has fascinated humans, and we have a duty to continue to care for it, while giving it the respect such an awesome force deserves.
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