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.

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