"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
-Antione de Saint-Exupery
I was welcomed back today as I begin a fifth of year serving as lay pastor of my church. No one is more surprised than me that my vague longing for "something more" through my youth and early twenties led me to God and that my longing for God led me to the church.
Wary at six and gripping the Donald Duck floating ring around my waist, I followed my father into the water as he taught me to befriend the ocean in the calm of Alamitos Bay. Later I would body surf with my friends in the small break at Seal Beach. I trusted my body more in the water than I did my father on the few occasions he took us out in the catamaran he was learning to sail. I was afraid the boat would tip over and we'd fall out. Gradually though, I came to like boats, despite the ill-fated sixth grade whale watching trip where everyone threw up, except me, who instead spent the day the color of split pea soup wishing I could puke. All we saw was a seagull.
Last week, my husband and youngest daughter were on the Island Adventurer headed out to Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands, when a pod of bottlenose dolphins chose to play with the boat, leaping before the bow, skimming just beneath the boat, resurfacing in the wake, racing each other and our captain. It was glorious, the sort of thing that does make one long for the sea, so after we arrive and hiked part of the island, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and waded into the lapping Pacific at East Harbor landing.
The water was mild and reminded me of the Southern California beach of my youth, not the numbing ocean of Santa Cruz County nearest to me these past twenty years. Ocean that I have long since given up swimming in. The waves curled and dipped, pulled and formed, steadily and gently in the cove. Knee deep in the water I was taken back in time and glimpsed again why I spent so much time in the water growing up. The rhythm and predictability of the waves, yet each one different, each one to be experienced fresh, either standing in the foam, swimming furiously to catch it, waiting poised for the swell to pick me up and carry me to shore, or being drilled into the sand by a wave too strong for my skills.
I loved the adventure, drawn to it the same way I am drawn now to worship, to a life of wanting to know and experience the Infinite One. A rhythm and predictability to the format of worship, the structure of prayer, yet each worship service, each time of prayer, each encounter unique, each glimpse of the divine as wonderful and frightening as body surfing or sailing.
I long for the sea. I am so privileged to be part of several communities that share the longing. We are joined together in our desire to know God, to become instruments--vessels even. This boat we are building out of the timber of our lives is made seaworthy by our faith. May it serve us and our Captain well.