Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Through the Shark Tank

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.
The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind. Exodus 14:21

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. Hebrews 11:29

“Shark Realm” is a stunning exhibit at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. Essentially, it consists of a clear, acrylic tunnel running through the middle of an enormous shark tank. Visitors walking through the tunnel have a completely unobstructed view of the water and the 850 creatures swimming around and above them. The illusion of being deep beneath the sea yet without getting wet (or getting eaten) is mesmerizing. Fantastical.

But the spell was broken for me when, during my turn, a pair of visitors in line behind me began to question the structural integrity of the beautifully engineered display.

“What kind of PSI do you think they’ve got going on here,” one fellow asked another.

“I don’t know, but there’s a heck of a lot of water in here. The sign says 550,000 gallons. One ding in the ol’ plexiglass and whoosh. . . . we’re gonners.”

The collective mood among the people in the tunnel shifted swiftly from wonderment to apprehension as individuals first contemplated the invisible force holding back the waters, and then further imagined its letting loose. Distress and fear registered on their faces. Wanting to leave the tunnel as quickly as possible, some visitors turned back toward the entrance they had funneled through just moments earlier, only to be reminded that this was a one-way walkway. The newest crush of entrants now clogged the opening, and the only way out of the exhibit was to press forward 40 feet to the exit. There could be no turning back.

Of course, there was no disaster that day at Adventure Aquarium. Only the whiff of a supposition of a rumor. Upon exiting the Shark Tunnel we were all deftly routed through the Shark Gift Shop. But even though the threat of danger was imagined, the experience has helped me to engage with the biblical story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea as Moses, with God’s power backing him up, restrains the ocean. In my aquarium encounter, just like in the Exodus account, circumstances required that all participants move forward. No matter how terrifying it was to advance, reversing or reverting or retreating were impossibilities.

To move ahead when the future is uncertain—well, isn’t that just one of the scariest challenges human beings face? The message I take from today’s Daily Texts is that, frightened or not, we must step forward on our life journeys, not backward. The sense of being protected in the midst of the peril, and the feeling of relief that comes after we have lunged and plunged into the future—these are the rewards for putting our trust in God.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What's Next?

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 21:1

God granted the inheritance to Abraham through the promise.
Galatians 3:18

It was this time a year ago that I renewed my relationship with Dave, the moving van operator. The morning he arrived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to load our boxed possessions onto the big orange Allied truck, his face seemed familiar to me. As we compared notes and reconstructed history, Dave and I came to the realization that he had been our driver 5 years previously when we transferred our household from Madison, Wisconsin to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Now he would be in charge of relocating our stuff to Gnadenhutten, Ohio. And when he pulled up to the 3-story brick American Foursquare-style home in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, Dave recalled having been in the house years earlier and negotiating furniture around the tight bends in the staircase for yet another Moravian pastoral family.

He would never say this aloud because he’s a very polite man, but as he packs and unpacks lamps and mirrors and bicycles and pianos, I’m pretty sure Dave questions the efficiency of the Moravian Church and the sanity of its clergy. (But hey, we do keep him steadily employed.)

Listening for and responding to God’s call is hardly ever an efficient prospect. In fact, it’s usually pretty complicated and messy. Look at Abraham and Sarah. I don’t suppose they found nomadic desert travel to an unfamiliar territory to be especially easy. I don’t imagine that they considered bearing and raising a child, an heir, in their advanced years to be a model of efficiency either. And regarding sanity—well, that characteristic is often scrutinized when someone claims to listen for and hear God’s voice.

I’ve been listening and hearing that voice since I was a teenager, and I think I’ve been faithful in responding. That doesn’t mean I always understand why God wants me to be in the places God puts me, or how I’m supposed to accomplish what it is God wants me to do. With all humility, I confess that I have no clear sense of what my purpose is in this land God has been showing me for 12 months now. Some days I find this discouraging. Other days, I find it to be energizing as I try to discern what’s coming next. In all of it, I find encouragement in the way God blessed Abraham and Sarah for their faithfulness, for their willingness to follow God even as they stepped out into the vast unknown.

There’s no big orange truck in my immediate future. I don’t expect to be seeing Dave again anytime soon. But I do expect that God has more to show me in this place. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow.