In the hardship post that is the house where we are staying on Oahu this summer, I sit sometimes and watch the ocean. It spreads out in front of the back porch, coloring the background behind Diamond Head. Completely upstanding citizens would kill for a view like this to narrate their morning coffee . . . in my best moments I remember to be grateful and astonished, really, that childhood neighbors would so generously offer their empty house for our use.
I think it probably was not coincidental that my sabbatical has been largely surrounded by this view, this picture of the ocean. I’m not a person who naturally takes to deep meditation and contemplation—I would prefer to be in conversation with others. But as long as I can remember, there has been one thing that gets me thinking and praying: the ocean.
My memory of childhood is full of the feeling of ocean breeze; campfires on the beach; layers of water with sunlight streaming through. My teenaged angst was eased by the view off Makapu’u lighthouse, where the water goes from shallow to deep very quickly and produces the most incredible variations of the color blue that you have ever seen. There’s no peace like staring out over the expanse; there is no deep understanding of your own powerlessness like watching the waves crash over the rocks and splash up into the air.
Though I could never have imagined we might have the gift of waking up to a view like this on this sabbatical journey, I think maybe it must be here for a reason. Maybe I need to wake up every day and fill my vision with the beauty of the colors. Maybe I need to look with recognition and remembrance at the patterns of the tides as they pull the water and crash against the shore. I know I surely need to see those huge commercial barges moving tons and tons in between islands or toward the mainland and marvel at how little and insignificant they look in the whole view. I need the familiar backdrop of the ocean to ask the questions I’d planned to ask again: Who am I? What is this life I have to live? What does it mean to be called by God? What makes my heart sing? What connects me to God? Where is my home?
I’m asking those questions and more, sitting on the porch every morning while reading the wonderings of one of the greatest pray-ers of all, King David. He poured out his heart in Psalm 56 and wrote, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (v.6-8)
Maybe, I imagine, the desert was David’s ocean. I think so. So when the beautiful, breath-taking view of the ocean invites me to listen for God, I’m praying along with David, just changing the words a little . . . Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly out over Diamond Head, I would dip down to see the whales, I would try to count as many different colors of blue that my eyes could see. I would hurry to my place of shelter and remember that I am so small in the very large plan of God. I would fly right through the summer showers, I would catch the updraft of the tradewinds, I would rest to the sound of the waves, and I would feel the very touch of God’s hand in the warmth of the sun.