Kōloa, Hawaii -- The poet Wallace Stevens, whose language could be dense and at times nearly impenetrable, understood -- as much as it's possible for the human mind to do so -- the mystery and power of the ocean.
In his haunting poem, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," he variously referred to it as a "perplexed machine," a "tense machine," a "tranced machine," a "dry machine" (I told you he could be difficult to grasp), and an "obese machine."
It is all that and more. I have spent part of our time here on Kauai just watching the nervous throbbing of ocean water against itself, against the shore, against whales and boats and against fish I knew to be there but rarely could see -- the long nose butterfly, the blue striped snapper, the Moorish idol, trumpet fish, goat fish and saddle wrasse.
This kind of unimaginable expanse (it took six hours of flying over it from Los Angeles to land at Lihue on Kauai) of undulating water mirrors, in my theological imagination, the heartbeat of God. It rolls and heaves, laps and kisses. And even though in his poem Stevens alleges that "In that November off Tehuantepec,/The slopping of the sea grew still one night," I have never known any ocean I've encountered grow still.
Sometimes their growl, their rumbling is less intense than at other times, but silence is never an option.
The tectonic plates under the sea shift and stretch and change what is above them. Here in Hawaii once there was nothing to be seen, no Hawaii at all. Then volcanoes under the ocean erupted and, over time and time and more time, they created these alluring islands, which Capt. James Cook first named the Sandwich Islands.
And no doubt one day the explosive power of what lies underwater will undo what it once did and Hawaii will be no more.
But ocean, moved by the moon's gravitational pull, will continue to writhe and roll its massive shoulders. It will slap whatever shore it can find. It will create whitecaps just for the sheer beauty of creating them. And it will continue to beat, beat, beat until, billions of years from now, our sun will explode and the atoms that make up the oceans (nothing is ever wasted in the divine economy) will go to be used elsewhere in the cosmos.
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SOUTHERN BAPTISTS IN A STRUGGLE ABOUT WHO THEY ARE
Christian denominations across the U.S. are in the midst of a period of major change, and one of them experiencing that in public view via news media coverage is the Southern Baptist Convention. For instance, this Atlantic piece describes the internal SBC battle over Russell Moore, who leads the group's political operation, and suggests that it's merely symbolic of the clash under way for the very soul of the denomination. Almost nothing escapes the winds of change these days, and the task for churches is to discern when that change represents the Holy Spirit at work and when change is something less divine.