Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 69:1-15) transports me to the Mariana Trench, seven miles below the surface of the western Pacific in the deepest part of the ocean’s floor. A little less than a year ago, film-maker James Cameron became the first human to take a solo dive and explore the trench. The pressure at this depth was so great that the compression shrunk his submarine by several inches. He reported to National Geographic that he was awestruck by the complete isolation there, the stillness of a completely desolate landscape. My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity. . . More than anything, it’s realizing how tiny you are down in this big, vast, black, unknown and unexplored space. For Cameron, the journey was the culmination of a lifelong dream, inspired by his watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau as a child, and hearing of the 1960 expedition of Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, the only other humans to ever reach the Mariana Trench. The dark bleakness of the landscape did not dissuade Cameron’s enthusiasm; he plans to return to Mariana Trench again for more exploration.
The Psalmist David was not quite so enthused as James Cameron at the prospects of deep-sea diving. For him, the flood waters and miry depths were terrifying symbols of overwhelming oppression and isolation. Save me, O God, he begins the song. I’m sinking, I have come into the deep waters, I am engulfed. After lamenting the source of these threatening waters – his many enemies and the anxiety of intense conflict – David continues the metaphor: Rescue me, do not let me sink; deliver me from the deep waters, don’t let the depths swallow me up. This is the stuff of nightmares, of sinking deeper and deeper under suffocating water, with the pressure getting greater and greater until implosion is imminent. These feelings are quite the motivator for intense pleading and desperate prayer for rescue and salvation. David obviously did not have the high-tech protection of the Undersea Challenger sub to alleviate his concerns. But even James Cameron did not take the risks of such a dive lightly. He was planning to spend six hours on the trench floor, but when he discovered an oil leak in one of the hydraulic systems of the robotic arm, he cut his exploration time in half and immediately began the ascent. As he rightly noted, one small leak in the hull itself would have caused instant implosion.
Cameron’s dive and David’s fear of the deep waters lead me to contemplate an image I often use in centering prayer. I like to spend 20 minutes swimming laps in the YMCA pool, practicing breathing prayers. Lately, I have used hymn lyrics to focus my breathing, and one that has been particularly helpful is from Joyful, Joyful. In the third verse, Henry van Dyke penned these lines: Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest. I try to get into a rhythm of breathing these two lines – imagining with each breath that I am inhaling what I need to experience the wellspring of joy, and exhaling what I need to let go of in order to experience the ocean depths of happy rest. I am beginning to understand more and more how much trust it takes to practice that letting go prayer, that surrendering prayer, diving deeper and deeper into the presence of God. Sinking into that ocean depth, that place of complete isolation and utter darkness can be frighteningly counter-intuitive. I, like most folks, prefer to live most of my life back up on the surface, where that wellspring of human activity continually bubbles up, sometimes streaming joy, sometimes not. But to get to that deep place, that place of rest, miles away from the light of day, requires a total surrender, a total trust that the encapsulating hull of the Holy Spirit will indeed hold up under the pressure, and there won’t be a complete implosion. Perhaps if the Psalmist had lived in a different age, and had been able to sing Henry Van Dyke’s lyrics, his prayer would not have been rescue me from the deep waters, but rescue me from the turbulent surface, and grant me the faith to go deeper and deeper into the trench of your grace.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.