there is sea salt in our hearts.
note: another old post revitalized after a year and a half. i’ve never really felt the connectedness that a lot of my friends feel to the ocean, particularly those who have lived near it their whole lives. its never been a huge part of my life. i mean, i spent my early years on an island half the size of west virginia, but i hardly recall dwelling in/on the ocean. the closest i got to the ocean when i lived in michigan was the great lakes, which on most shores one cannot see the other side. still, the ocean they ain’t. and virginia, i spent more time trudging around the appalachians than i did near any formidable body of water. when i moved to st. augustine, i almost never went to the beach, save the occasional nighttime journey to swim or wander up the coast. even after living here for five years, my recollections of actual ocean interaction are peppered with playing soccer on the beach with my roommates and pretending to be very loud, very raucous frenchmen on vacation. still, the ocean has always perplexed me. its shear size and the fact that it is so constant have been kind of unsettling to me. almost like fear, but more apprehension than anything. yet, recently, because now i live a block away, i find myself dandering down to the shoreline (again, usually at night) and just watching and listening. its a place separated from my life, and i like the solitude.
for me, right now, the ocean represents a great allegory about the nature of G-D. its something i’ve been very thirsty to discover; who exactly is this god that i am trying to devote my life to? i am firmly against the idea of pure blind faith; becoming complacent in one’s beliefs to the point of not analyzing them and scrutinizing the reasons for those ideas. a lot of times we speak of being on a “spiritual plateau”, meaning that we feel we are neither growing closer to G-D nor slipping away from him. but i feel that immobility in a relationship with G-D is impossible; we are always moving forward, or else we’re moving backwards. therefore it should be in our nature to constantly be searching for G-D in order to validate our faith. and i think that by attaching some of these ideas to the allegory of the ocean, i’ve been able to understand something of the nature of god.
how much do you know about the ocean? i mean REALLY know about it? you can read about it, talk to people about it, stand at its edge and look as far as you can, smell the salient air drifting inland, listen to the constant rolling waves, but you cannot know every inch of the ocean in this lifetime. when i go to the water, the ocean dominates everything else around it. every sense is caught up in that one thing. whatever idea i have in my head for “ocean” doesn’t quite fit the ENTIRE nature of what stretches out before me. its seems like its far more complex a concept than i can wrap my head around, but at the same time its far more simple. in a word i can reference this object, but i can’t truly describe it to you so you understand, which is fine, because i can’t really describe it to myself.
there’s a running theme in the monotheistic religions of “divine simplicity”, particularly in jewish and christian mysticism. the idea is that G-D is an incredibly simple being, more simple than we can wrap our minds around. thomas aquinas, a big player in christian history, writes that because G-D is infinitely simple, he can only appear to the finite mind as though he were infinitely complex. there aren’t parts to GOD; he can’t be subdivided into facets like the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realms of our being. even the specific terms we use to describe god are broad: GOD is love, GOD is everywhere, GOD is all-powerful. try as we might, we cannot fathom HIS nature because we don’t have the tools to understand what exactly this means. we can only describe things by our senses, which are all confined by the nature of creation. yet GOD exists outside creation. the first line in the first chapter of the first book of the bible tells us this: “in the beginning G-D created the heavens and the earth” (genesis 1:1). HE exists outside of what we can smell, hear, touch, see, taste, conceive because HE is not confined by any of those temporal sensations. yet he also exists within all those things. so we are allowed to grasp at bits and pieces of the nature of G-D, but not the whole thing. if it weren’t for our ability to know a tiny portion of G-D’s being, we wouldn’t be able to have any experience of HIM.
i found this quote from a jewish rabbi:”God’s existence is absolutely simple, without combinations or additions of any kind. All perfections are found in Him in a perfectly simple manner. However, God does not entail separate domains … even though in truth there exist in God qualities which, within us, are separate… Indeed the true nature of His essence is that it is a single attribute, (yet) one that intrinsically encompasses everything that could be considered perfection. All perfection therefore exists in God, not as something added on to His existence, but as an integral part of His intrinsic identity… This is a concept that is very far from our ability to grasp and imagine..”
so, back to the ocean. it is so simple, yet so vast that i can’t comprehend it in its entirety. but there are things i can know about it from being in its presence. i can watch the waves, i can feel the water envelope me, i can smell the air that courses over it for miles, i can hear the neverending lull of the waves as they touch the land. all of these things lend to my understanding of what the ocean is, and i’m content with the experience that is available to me, though i can’t experience the entire ocean in one go. similarly, we can’t know everything about GOD, but what we can know is enough to keep us searching and yearning for the complete intimacy of full understanding. this is both encouraging and discouraging. its so hard to put all one’s faith in something that can’t be totally comprehended, but its so exciting to try. that’s the challenge that sits before us. very often i feel like giving up, because its too daunting a task. but there’s also something about what i know already, and what a difference that’s made to me, that i want to keep trying to understand the nature of HE who created me.
this is thomas aquinas’ doctrine of divine simplicity:http://www.homestead.com/philofreligion/files/Thomas3.html