There’s a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins I’ve long loved*, and it is what comes to mind when I think of “sea”. It is called “Heaven-Haven” and is subtitled “A nun takes the veil”:
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
And if that’s life in a convent, well, I’ve always felt the appeal of that, the longing for peace that “comes dropping slow” as W. B. Yeats put it, writing of his own desire to go “live alone in the bee-loud glad” in a cabin on the Lake Isle of Innisfree.
Even being in a boat on a calm sea makes me seasick — I have no longing for storms and swinging seas, and, given the option, one prefers to have no hail. (At least, I prefer. But, like Bilbo Baggins, I want no adventures.)
But then tonight I read the story of Israel coming out of Egypt, pursued by Pharaoh: “For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea” (Exodus 15:19).
Later, psalmists and prophets celebrated and marveled at this:
“He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap” (Psalm 78:13).
“He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert” (Psalm 106:9).
“. . . who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths” (Isaiah 63:12, 13).
And here’s what I’m seeing: God made His people walk right through the middle of sea. They were on their way to peace, yes — if they’d continued in obedience — but on the way, it was right through the depths. Depths that could have swallowed them up, as they had ample proof seeing Pharaoh and his army swept away behind them. But the LORD went with them, and made their way through the depths on dry land.
Others of His people actually got wet: Jonah who was “cast . . . into the heart of the sea” (2:3); and the psalmist, who cried to the LORD “out of the depths” (130:1), among others.
But there’s this promise from God, always true:
“When you pass through the waters,” — when, not if — “I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. . . . For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2, 3).
He tells His people to fear not. Not because He’s going to always be leading them exclusively beside quiet waters and “out of the swing of the sea,” but because, when He leads them straight into the sea, He is with them there.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
— not in earthly peace —
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
It’s our iniquities which shut us out of peace, but Christ “himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Rest in His peace, small one, and be glad.
*Actually, I think I first met it as a song by the Innocence Mission. But the same friend introduced me to both Hopkins and the Innocence Mission, and I can’t remember which came first.
©2015 by Stacy Nott