Faces on Faith: Sacred moments in the ocean
Thomas Merton wrote often about being “touched by God” – those moments in life when we experience a “vivid awareness of the infinite Being.” Merton felt deeply that those moments were a free gift of love from God. Many of you have had those experiences – sometimes calling them spiritual insights, a rush of the soul, or as that recently published book refers to them “God Winks.” Of course, every time we even try to analyze and describe such spiritual events, we come up short because all we have as tools to do this is human language. We endeavor to recount the infinite with our finite parts of speech. I guess that’s why sometimes I feel that silence in those moments is the best way to absorb what is going on, the best way to contemplate what is beyond our limited understandings. Rather than try to grasp the “God moment,” and find the perfect words to describe it, silence – like Elijah in his cave after the wind and fire – can increase our awareness of the holy in our midst.
Two summers ago I swam with a dolphin in the Keys and it was all very emotionally thrilling being so close to such an exquisite mammal. As she approached me in the water and touched me with her fin, she looked straight at me and opened her mouth – letting out clicking and squealing sounds in a form of greeting. That huge, graceful and powerful blue-gray mammal had no fear at all – just watched me with a keen sense of awareness, let me rub her back and pushed gently against me, nudging me to play. What I was not prepared for was the spiritual rush that followed – in a still, silent moment of coming eye to eye with that beautiful, sensitive, and intelligent creature. That creature, as Susan Casey writes, “that possesses specialized brain cells that resemble our own human emotions of empathy, intuition, communication and awareness.” No, I was not in the least prepared for that space in time in the ocean – eye to eye with part of God’s creation – and I almost missed it.
You know, I’ve always felt the presence of God in creation – whether in the new babe born to Emily and Chris Kirchner a few weeks ago, a flaming sunrise, storm clouds, the kind smile of an elderly person, or the exquisite curves and folds of an orchid. The dolphin was a new one. There are so many spaces that cause a lump in our throats, a tear in our eyes, or a rush of the heart and soul – just for a still, silent moment when we feel profoundly the essence of our Creator still revealing, still with us. My experience with the dolphin, that of course I thought would be fun and fascinating, became much more. It transported me to a place where I was face-to-face with a part of creation I’d never encountered – a haunting, spiritual, and overwhelming encounter with a wild and sacred creature of the deep. I was in awe once again of my Creator. I’ll keep looking. Will you? For those awe-filled moments that connect us with the holy – as we are “touched by God.” Don’t miss them!
-Ellen M. Sloan; Rector, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church