The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
From where I write today on the south shore of the island of Kauai, the Pacific Ocean lives up to its name, a calm and peaceful sea, with a gentle warm breeze coming onshore. Just after sunrise this morning, I watched a surf lesson on a grassy knoll overlooking the sea. As someone who has never surfed, I’m pretty sure that land surfing is easier than ocean surfing. I didn’t see one land surfer fall off a surf board this morning. Every time I watch ocean surfers, they are falling off their boards again and again because surfing is a very difficult sport to learn. When our sons were learning to surf, I’d ask them about their time out surfing. The most common answer was, “I got worked big time by the ocean.”
Learning to surf may be like learning to live by faith in God. Both are impossible by simply watching YouTube videos. You can watch videos of big wave surfers all day, such as those who dare Nelscott Reef (see http://www.nelscottreef.com/2011Video.html), but it won’t make you a big wave surfer. Part of the Big Wave World Tour, the NelscottReef Tow-In Classic, located near Lincoln City, Oregon, occurs when big ocean swells come ashore against the Nelscott Reef, pushing up waves 30-50 foot in height. As a result, Nelscott Reef brings only the most experienced surfers around the world to attempt the sea when it becomes “rougher and rougher”. As I look at the land surfers taking their first surf lessons on the grassy knoll next to the beach on a peaceful day in February, I smile, because I’m no surfer, but I know surfers who will tell me that you only learn to surf by getting wet.
While some of us live in armchair comfort watching videos of extreme sports such as big wave surfing, life happens. Onboard the ship with Jonah, veteran sailors know in their bones what Jonah can only imagine: this sea is a killer, and the odds are increasing that everyone on this ship will drown. The story tells us “the sea was getting rougher and rougher.” Forces upon the sea include tide, wind, temperature (water and air), upwelling and downwelling, storms, and currents. Mix a few of these together into a thick soup, toss in a ship heading 3000 miles across this body of water, and let’s see what happens.
On the coast where we live, during the Great Coastal Gale of December 2007, we experienced sustained winds of over 120 miles per hour. During this intense storm which knocked out power for a week in our coastal community, the Pacific Ocean was anything but peaceful, getting rougher and rougher hour by hour, closing the Columbia River bar to shipping traffic and threatening the lives of the crew onboard all the ships waiting to enter the Columbia River. As a land man who easily gets seasick, I try not to imagine the experience of living aboard one of those big ships waiting out in the Pacific, hoping to get into a safe harbor, while one of the biggest Pacific Northwest storms in recorded history howls all around me.
Having heard Jonah’s confession of faith, and already knowing Jonah’s absurd mission of trying to run away from God, these mariners now ask Jonah a penetrating question: “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” They know the problem lies with Jonah. The lot fell to Jonah. If this runaway prophet believes in some great God who made the sea and the dry land, then maybe Jonah’s God can do something through this prophet to pacify the sea. The problem is to get Jonah out of the way first.
As Simone Weil writes in Waiting for God, “We live in a world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence…to empty ourselves of our false divinity, to deny ourselves, to give up being center of the world…”[i]
One of Jonah’s fellow prophets, Jeremiah, offered this invitation to all weary travelers: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus picks up this invitation to peace with his own promise of rest: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[ii] Bringing this a little closer to home, maybe we need to ask such questions of ourselves as, ‘What do you do to make sure things will go well for you? How do you make this rough life calm down so that you can find rest for your soul? When life gets rougher and rougher, what brings you to a place of peace?’
Photo by Thomas Robinson of Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic 2010 on the 2nd November 2010 in Lincoln City, Oregon. The 2010 event is one of five stops for the Big Wave World Tour, the brainchild of the infamous big wave surfer and event organizer, Gary Linden. See www.zoomdak.comfor Thomas Robinson’s online photo gallery.