I just finished up the book of Mark which took me way longer than it should have. I decided this would be a good time for a Rabbit Trail. Something that has been on my mind recently was something I heard about many Inuit tribes in Canada and northern Alaska. Apparently part of their cultural heritage is that watery places are synonymous with spirit-filled places. Seas, rivers, lakes and the like are places where the spiritual world intersects with the physical world here on earth in a unique way. Jesus demonstrated this by providing a window between these worlds as he taught and healed along the shores of several bodies of water.
This idea that water is a metaphor for the spiritual sea that surrounds us has come up many times in my float through the bible. Perhaps this is because as earth dwellers most of us are not at home in the “water” so it is similar to the spiritual realm in this respect.
I recently happened upon a very interesting documentary on Netflix called My Octopus Teacher. The movie is about videographer and photographer Craig Foster who shows great fortitude, some would say foolhardiness, by spending a year free diving with his underwater cameras to essentially “live” in a kelp forest and get to know a specific octopus.
He learns that in order to be at home in this alien world he must push himself to his physical limits and set aside his need for comfort. He dives without a wet suit or SCUBA gear so that he can experience this environment as the creatures that live in it experience it. He learns to slow his breathing and grows accustomed to the frigid water. Instead of suiting up to survive the environment he slowly equips his own body to operate in this foreign realm.
Returning to water as a metaphor for the spiritual realm raises some interesting questions about how we prepare ourselves here on earth to survive and thrive in the spiritual realm, both now and in the time to come. Are we doing the equivalent of putting on wet suits and equipping ourselves with external air tanks so that we can “survive” in this foreign environment – or are we embracing it and allowing some level of discomfort so that we become accustomed to this spiritual sea? I think many of the efforts woven throughout history like mind altering substances, dream quests, meditation, and even prayer are an effort to quiet our souls and get more comfortable and familiar with the “spiritual sea” that surrounds us.
One of my heroes is the naturalist John Muir. I like to think we would have been kindred spirits if we had lived at the same time. John Muir was a naturalist like few others. He would climb a tall fir during a raging storm just to feel the fury of the natural world around him. I suppose he may have just been an adrenaline junky but I think he realized something that Craig Foster also realized while free diving in the ocean off the coast of South Africa. In order to truly know and experience a foreign environment we must allow ourselves to become a part of it. This requires some level of discomfort if the environment is not our natural dwelling place.
So how do we do this for the spiritual world? I think in many ways it is harder than holding our breath and getting accustomed to cold water. We must learn a new way of seeing and hearing what is happening around us. In a way that is what John Muir and Craig Foster were doing too. They allowed themselves to be submersed in nature in a way that allowed them to see things they could not otherwise see. In order to be submersed in the spiritual sea around us requires that we allow ourselves to become submersed in this intangible world in a way that may make many of us feel uncomfortable.
We fear being labelled a religious fanatic when we see and hear evidence for this spiritual world. We are unsure of what we have seen or experienced and are quick to explain it away as coincidence or “fate”. I am sure both John Muir and Crag Foster were called crazy by many of their friends and relatives for their devotion to knowing and experiencing nature. Perhaps we should be willing to be called crazy once in a while too in exchange for experiencing eternity.