The Deep Blue Ocean

February 21, 2021
Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15

This year the season of Lent might feel difficult to embrace. In a time when traditionally people give up things, I’ve heard at least one pastor say, “Haven’t we given up enough in the past year. It is like we never left Lent 2020. Do we really need to give up anything else?” (It might also be that “giving up” stuff is not the only way – or even the best way – to observe Lent.)

Across Mennonite Church USA many congregations are using the Lenten theme “Deep calls to Deep.” While I find this phrase intriguing, it is not all that self-explanatory, at least to me. Based on a verse from Psalm 42, “deep calls to deep” wavers between beauty and despair, just like Psalm 42 itself.

I looked up this verse in several different translations to see if it would help me make sense of it. In Hebrew, the verse seems to read “ocean depths call to ocean depths.” The Message paraphrase is – “chaos calls to chaos.”

No doubt about it, deep can be dangerous:

  • deep depression
  • deep debt
  • deep into conspiracies
  • deep fake
  • deep state
  • deep doo doo

And deep can be comforting:

  • deep dazzling darkness
  • deep sleep
  • deep dive
  • deep comfy couch
  • deep dish pizza

You can dig yourself into a deep hole. That might mean you are literally knee high in the dirt or that you have made life difficult for yourself. When something is significant, we say it is deep. When something is troubling, we say it is deep.

The Gaelic blessing wishes:

Deep peace of the running waves,
deep peace of the glowing air,
deep peace of the quiet earth,
deep peace of the shining stars
deep peace of Christ to you.

Deep is at once both literal and figurative. In the texts today, the flood waters in Genesis definitely cause chaos. In Mark, the baptismal waters elicit a dove of blessing from the skies. So… deep calls to deep.

Wendy and Anna know about deep. They are scuba-divers. Anna says: When you scuba dive you get to enter an entirely different world. The best way I can describe it is feeling like the epitome of an observer. You are just there to look and things are functioning fairly normally despite your presence – for the most part the animals are unbothered by your presence. You get to see all of the different types of fish and other sea creatures in their natural habitat.

Wendy says: When I’m first descending for a dive, I have about 60 seconds where I’m like “WHAT AM I DOING??!!” anxiety because we are in fact going 50-60 feet underwater. But that fades away as I see the coral, the fish, and feel the anticipation of seeing something super exciting like a turtle, shark or stingray. It’s relaxing and amazing and everything else in life fades away as I immerse myself in this whole other ecosystem – that exists without our really thinking about it most of the time.”

This kind of deep is not fake or chaos. It is not comfy or pizza. It is a different magnitude altogether.

I have never been scuba diving. But what Wendy and Anna describe sounds a little bit like that mysterious feeling of being totally engrossed and lost in something while at the same time seeing clearly in a way that you didn’t know was possible. It doesn’t happen to me very often but sometimes when I sit in silence for long enough I catch a glimpse. OR it can happen in a loud and noisy group that is working together for a common goal and for just a moment it seems like we have come near the Reign of God. It is just a flicker and then it is gone. Maybe scuba diving is a short cut to deep spirituality.

Jesus’ baptism is a deep experience for him. He feels the water from the Jordan River on his head, over his body. Does it remind him of the story of creation from Genesis 1, water separated from water? And the flood waters, how Noah and his family were saved from drowning.

Surely he remembers the water of the Red Sea when his ancestors came out of slavery to freedom. And as he stands in the water, he must be aware of the story about this very same river, the Jordan, where Joshua piled stones to mark that God was with the Israelites as they crossed the river into the Promised Land. Jesus’ body and spirit might even have a lingering sense of the waters of his mother’s womb, the waters that created, held and nurtured him.

Holding all of this in his heart, the tradition and the creation of his own body, Jesus chooses baptism. Jesus’ own baptism becomes another marker in the tradition. He joins the community, even as he will lead the community, that is committed to bringing the reign of God near. As if to affirm his experience, a voice calls him beloved. He sees a dove. He is one with his surroundings. He knows he is deeply loved.

Then…it is over. As Mark tells it, immediately, the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness and he remains there for forty days and is tempted by Satan.

Jesus catches a glimpse, he experiences “deep calls to deep” and then just like that it vanishes. For the next forty days he is in deep struggle, with only the beasts and the angels as company. The writer of Mark’s gospel gives us no other details.

Perhaps “forty days” is Mark’s shorthand for the universal struggle. Does it sound familiar? Is it recognizable, that pain of not being able to remember the deep gift that once was ours:

when deep is all threat and no blessing,
when oxygen doesn’t flow freely enough,
when the currents pull toward fear and a feeling of unworthiness.
If we lift our eyes, we might see comfort nearby,
it may be less in human form, than in nature and spirit.
And yet deep calls to deep…

Just like scuba, it takes some practice to go deep. We are born with a connection to deep but as we try to fit into the misshapen human construct, we lose it, little by little. At some point, we may choose to look for the things of this world that return us to deep. We might even begin to practice, visiting those places or activities or states of being more often.

I wonder what those things are that
draw you closer to yourself, (Deep breath)
draw you closer to God, (Deep breath)
draw you closer to creation, (Deep breath)
draw you closer to your neighbor? (Deep breath)

How do you practice those? (My life flows on, in endless song, above earth’s lamentation)
We might even want to do as Jesus did in baptism, choose a physical sign of our commitment to seek deep. (bread, bowl, water, towel)

Let’s be real, there is no shame in the shallows – there can be true beauty there and so much life. People snorkel in the shallows all the time to experience the clear water, the color, abundance of fish, bright coral.

And Anna says – In terms of the physical sensations, scuba and snorkeling are wildly different. When you’re snorkeling you can feel the effects of the waves more and it takes more physical effort in general. When you’re scuba diving you’re basically floating and it’s a really peaceful sensation.

Deep calls to deep. It is a commitment, hopefully a joyful commitment, to try to experience deep, to answer deep. When deep starts to resonate we might even want to share it with others, want to learn how to share it with others. I will never forget when my mother was so invigorated by her practice of silence at The Hermitage retreat center that she wanted to take the whole family to experience it with her. It was not the kind of week long – or even two day – vacation her three, young adult children were excited about. But 16 years after her death, I did go to that retreat center for 4 days of silence. I began to understand her longing to share her experience of deep with the people she loved, with the women she visited in jail, with seminary students, with her congregation.

Anna says it this way: After I went diving I decided I wanted to spend as much of the rest of my life as I could underwater, and protecting the things underwater because of how amazing it was. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. I remember one of the first things we saw when we descended was a spotted eagle ray that was far enough away we could only see it when it flapped its wings.

There are some things you just can’t see in the shallows, that you can’t experience when you stand on the shore. Deep calls to deep. We get to make the choice, how we respond.

Of course our life situations may impact how we choose. The shore may be just about all we can handle when emerging from the wilderness. Snorkeling in the currents may be the thrill we need sometimes. Scuba may not work for families with young kids.

And you may decide the whole water, scuba, snorkel metaphor doesn’t work for you. at all! That is fine. Deep calls to Deep. No matter where you find yourself, on the shore, in the shallows, in the deep, even in the wilderness, God calls each of you Beloved. You are loved. We are each God’s own.