Thursday, July 14, 2005


“Much labor was created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam, from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb… Their perplexities and fear of heart—their anxious thought is the fear of death…from the man who wears purple and a crown to the one who is clothed in burlap, there is anger and envy and trouble and unrest, and fear of death and fury and strife. And when one rests upon his bed, his sleep at night confuses his mind; he gets little or no rest…” (Sirach 40:1-6).

Not so
mething we’d like to meditate much on, I would guess, but it is the word of God nevertheless—expressed in the words of one quite familiar with the human condition. The vast majority of humans (in Western societies, anyway) are restless, anxious, fearful, or perplexed in one way or another. It’s no accident that the happiness and peace of Heaven is sometimes described as “eternal rest.” Our restless souls long for the tranquility of a life without stress, frustration, and the myriad little anxieties that seem to situate our souls in a state of more or less continual restlessness.

How to make restlessness restful? I don’t have the easy answer (sorry!), but I know one place to find restful restlessness: the ocean. There is a paradox there, which I wrote about in one of our newsletters. The continuous restless activity of the churning waves and the unceasing sounds of surf tend to calm my spirit, more so even than a placid lake. Perhaps it is because each wave-crash is a release of tension, a spending of energy. The waves then calmly withdraw and return to the deep, and the cycle begins again. And again.

Is there something we can learn from restful, restless waves? Perhaps when we look at the big picture (and the ocean is a very big picture), we will notice that the restless waves are usually on the fringes of the vast expanse of blue tranquility. And in the depths there are no waves at all—only stillness, muted colors, and gentle, filtered light. Restless waves point to a deeper truth, and our restless thoughts and emotions ought to turn us to the big picture: the depths of our souls, which have sufficient capacity to bear the presence of the Creator of oceans. If our chaotic restlessness can be transfigured into a rhythmic surface tension, an energetic dance, then it can be productively spent and we can regularly withdraw back to the deep.

Our dis-integrated desires, our fragmented feelings, our piecemeal perspectives, might make us view the kaleidoscopic magnificence of ever-changing ocean waves as mere disorder or chaotic frenzy—a mirror of our inner lives. But if we sat and listened for a while, and watched the movement of the waves—and of our minds and hearts—we might see a pattern, the hint of a divine design, and we would gently gather our scattered thoughts and emotions into quiet tide-pools of trust and a more far-seeing wisdom. We might begin—foamy splashes notwithstanding—to rest in Providence. “Only in God is my soul at rest” (Psalm 61/62).