Friday, June 22, 2007

One Day I Will Swim That Sea: On Heaven

One of the hallmarks of summer is time in the water. Here in Louisville, there's little water to be found, particularly in the midst of a busy life. As a native of Maine, I often find myself pining for the sea. Walking home from a day of work in simmering heat, I sometimes transport myself back to my state, and imagine myself lying in ocean sun, contented.

Growing up on Maine's coast, I was not far from the ocean--about 10 minutes away, in fact. There were also many lakes to visit and swim in. The opportunity to swim imbues life with a relaxed state. It is as if one's soul is able to exhale. Diving off of a dock, for a second anticipating the plunge about to occur, and then shooting into water is an aesthetic experience. The swimming life is the enhanced life, to be sure. For a few seconds, one enters another world, an alien world, frightening in some respects, yet not foreboding. The ocean simultaneously beckons and challenges. It invites you to enter it, but it makes no promises about what happens once you do. You might encounter rocks, or starfish, or sharks. You're never sure what will ensue when you step into it. Yet from the outside, all is peaceful.

I suppose that our experience of the ocean redounds of our experience of heaven. Heaven, of course, does not frighten. But that is not to say that there is nothing something that sends a chill through us when we think of heaven. Our blood does not cool because of fear, but because of the immensity of God. The majesty of God and His dwelling place, like the ocean, confronts us, confounds us, leaves us bewildered. Like the ocean, we understand something of heaven; we can "see" it in a sense, through the eyes of faith, but as with the sea, we know almost nothing of heaven. No one other than a startled biblical author or two has even glimpsed the glories of heaven, and so, like the ocean, we know so little of it. We can gaze on it, stand before it on this earth, and contemplate it, straining our sight, but we cannot truly see it. It is a mystery, a hidden reality, a presence beyond anything, beyond the ocean, beyond the galaxy, beyond all that we know and can know.

The ocean calls me. Though I don't see it, or smell it, or feel its coarse air, I hear it. It calls me, and this call leaves me longing, frustrated, as I walk to my home. Yet the ocean, powerful as it may be, is drowned out by a greater call, a call to a land of wonder, a place of eye-altering beauty, a home promising complete satisfaction of the soul. This land is heaven. I see it now, but only as the ocean, only as a stretch of majesty that strains my eyes and confounds my mind. I want the Maine water. I miss it terribly. But I want heaven, I want the chill, I want the experience of coming near, impossibly near, to the God I love and worship. It is His immensity and splendor I see just a glimpse of now, though one day I will step into that ocean, and I will swim that sea.


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