Some went down to the sea in ships

lindisfarnesea

This morning, one of the psalms for Morning Prayer was Psalm 107, and this morning, like every month, verse 23 stopped me in my tracks:

‘Some went down to the sea in ships                                                                              and plied their trade in deep waters;’

And I don’t know why it always makes me stop and think, but it does. Just that one half verse, ‘Some went down to the sea in ships,’ sets my mind wondering. Where were they from? Why did they leave? What happened to the ones who didn’t go? How far was the sea? Did they know it was there, or did they set out into the unknown? What did they do when they reached the sea? Where did they go?

But then, reading the psalm again, not during Morning Prayer but later, and with a different eye, I saw there were other groups of people. ‘Some wandered in desert wastes,’ and they had a horrible time being hungry and thirsty and having nowhere to live, but they cried to God and he led them to a city where they could make their home. ‘Some sat in darkness and deep gloom,’ because they had rejected God, but when they cried out in their misery they were led out of their despair. ‘Some were fools and took to rebellious ways,’ and that almost killed them, but again when they cried out God delivered them. Finally, ‘some went down to the sea in ships,’ and although they saw the wonders of the oceans God caused a storm to toss them about. In their fear they cried out to God and he stilled the storm, and ‘brought them to the harbour they were bound for’.

So that answered some of my questions: What happened to the others? Where did the ones in the ships go? They all sounded like quite foolhardy types who thought they could do all kinds of ill-advised things on their own. Then they were humbled and in peril, and finally threw themselves on God’s mercy. Of all of them, we read,

‘Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy                                                                    and the wonders he does for his children.’

But I still have a question. ‘Some went down to the sea in ships,’ and were ‘brought . . . to the harbour they were bound for.’ But did they ever go home?

Having a corner on Julian

Japanese rock garden

I went to Morning Prayer this morning. It was a lovely way to start the week.

After the service, a conversation reminded me of a piece our previous rector submitted to a ‘Peace Book’ we put together in 2007. It was called ‘Having a corner on God’ by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his point was that there are holy people in every religion, and that there many things that people of different faiths can learn from each other.

So I started to think about Julian, and how many ways there are to appreciate her writing.

For Lent this year, I felt it was right to re-read Revelations Of Divine Love, but this time to read it aloud. It turned out to be a wonderful thing to do, so I don’t think I can claim credit for it. It simply seemed to be the right thing to do. It was a powerful and deeply moving experience. I felt like I could hear Julian speaking, and of course, a scribe actually wrote the book as she dictated it (according to the scribe’s own postscript) so from the beginning it was spoken words.

Julian’s words have always spoken to me, but by the time I finished the book I felt that I had connected with her on a deeper level, that I had felt her personality , that at times she was funny, indignant, sharp-witted; she sounded like someone I’d like to know, someone I’d like to turn to for advice, a big sister. This is the relationship I have with her voice.

Other people have different relationships; it may be an inspiration to contemplative prayer, it may be the comfort of some of the famous quotes. The scribe’s postscript warns against this kind of cherry-picking, but really, I would say, anyone who only takes a few snippets is missing out on much more. It’s easy to do with Julian, though, there are so many wonderful sentences, so many words to treasure.

What I want to remind myself by writing this, though, is that there are many ways to come to Julian, many ways to interpret her words, many ways to carry her message in our hearts. Like a Japanese rock garden, it depends where you stand, you will never see it all from only one place.