Reflections on Tides

There are great and mighty things happening all around us.

I was taught to preach with the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other. This process means studying the prophets Jeremiah and Amos alongside Jamelle Bouie and Charles Blow. Hear together the first evangelist of the resurrection, Mary Magdalen, while also hearing Rebecca Solnit resurrect hope amid disaster and defeat. Honor Rachel weeping for her children and Rachel Maddow weeping for democracy. Read Doubting Thomas Friedman once again.

But I was never taught to listen to the Earth speaking, to exegete the wind, sun, and rain. Instead, I have stood with Elisha at the mouth of the cave, not hearing God in the storm or the earthquake. But perhaps it was those sacred earthly forces that brought Elisha to silence so he could hear the still, small voice.

The planet doesn’t often get a voice in the news unless it burns us, drowns us, or blows our houses with a great view into oblivion. We certainly hear when 90 wildfires devastate the paradise of Maui, leaving over 90 people dead, but scientific breakthroughs in understanding our universe are left to less read scientific journals. If it bleeds, it leads; otherwise, our Earth is beautiful or deadly, but its wisdom is not valued.

That was true for me, at least not until I moved to an island on the coast of Maine.

Now I know great and mighty things are happening around us, and I’m not referring to indictments. My new home looks down into a cove of the Sheepscot River, which goes down to the near mud twice a day and then fills again. When I first moved in, the low tide at my house was at around noon, and I thought, “So we will always have low tide at lunchtime.” Clearly, I had much to learn. Since I grew up in Iowa, I am mesmerized by the dance moon and water.

In Boothbay Harbor, the tide currently varies about 8 ½ feet from high to low. The last high tide was minutes ago at 10:16 AM, and low tide will be at just after 4 PM, in case you need to calculate a kayak trip or a dip in the ocean.

The moon is waning down to about 5 percent, near a new moon arriving on Tuesday.

Our tide variation of nine feet isn’t much compared to the Bay of Fundy, which rises to 76 feet twice a day. Fishermen must leave with the tide each day from the bay at a different time, getting up at 3 AM Monday, 4 AM Tuesday, and 5 AM Wednesday; otherwise, their boats get stuck in the mud. The Mediterranean only varies in inches, so we all have a different sense of the tides. Tides happen in the boundaries between land and sea, and it is the space in these tidal pools that life first formed in the tumult.

Humans have been fascinated by the mysteries of the tides since forever. From early on, everyone could see the moon was connected, so it became the deity of the night, with its regular cycles. Great minds pondered the issue. Some people thought it was the lungs of the living Earth rising and falling. Leonardo Da Vinci hypothesized that the tides were from a breathing giant sea monster and tried to calculate how large this creature would be to create the waves.

Right or wrong, people understood great and mighty things were happening around them.

You may have heard that Isaac Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head, but he proved gravity through the tides, inventing calculus during a pandemic, with time on his hands to do the math. He said that the tides are the gravitational influences of the moon daily circling the Earth. People thought he was nuts. How could an invisible force have such power over us?

The speed of the tidal currents on the surface of the open ocean measure about 1 to 2 knots per hour, but out in the great Pacific Ocean, the underlying wave moving around the Earth travels at 400 to 500 knots.

The continual crashing of waves upon our beaches can erode tons of sandbars and, with the patience of millions of years, can polish and smash granite. If you even turn your back on the waves at high tide, you may have knocked to your knees and tumbled over like a pebble in the surf. Small wonder, at the full moon, the emergency rooms are busier. People working in psychiatric units will tell you that mood shifts with the moon are real. After all, we are two-thirds water, and all that gravity is making us slosh around a little on the inside. If the moon were larger and had a more powerful gravitational force in our field, we would all sway as we stand like a good African American church choir. White people would finally have rhythm. If the moon had its way, our locomotion would be more out of control; we would slam into the room’s walls like a ship in the storm, crashing into each other like a perpetual giant mosh pit.

But the gravity of the planet protects us. Mother Earth gently cradles us in her arms, so we hardly notice we are rocketing through space and the moon is trying to drag our liquidity around the planet once daily. Instead, you can gently sit your butt in the pew, in great relative comfort, with the wiggles mostly from sermons that go too long for from such short-term beings like ordained humans.

You are being gently held every minute of every day, including right now. How could you not also be loved? Great and mighty things are happening.

 My favorite place to watch the tide and meditate is at a bridge between Hodgson Island and the mainland, where an old fishing boat, the Sarah Bee, is sunk in the channel. I heard it is a sad story of a bankrupt fisherman who knocked the hole in the bottom of the boat so it could not be repossessed. Whatever the tragedy, the ship is stuck in the mud where I pass to and from work. For me, the boat has become a marker. I think of the tragic parts of my life where I leaked, took on water, and got stuck in the mud for everyone to see right out in the channel. I let the wreck take on all my mistakes, failures, and missed opportunities. I need somewhere to put them.

She is gradually wearing away piece by piece, and salt and water almost visibly melt her down. In the winter, the out railing on one side collapsed. Some day she will be gone. The tide will have her.

But the Sarah Bee has also become a spiritual marker. With the tide, all things change. At low tide, I can see all the boat, and at high tide, the water comes up to the windows of the main cabin, and I just see the roof. I know what to expect by looking at the boat and what time we should kayak to do the second half of paddling with the tide. She is more accurate than my Tides app. Through her, the tides speak to me. All things change and wear away. Granite rock, sandy beaches, sunken boats, and all my mistakes too. Until then, the tides will lift me twice daily and tell me to rest twice too.

Through the Earth and the tides, great and mighty things are happening. Listen and connect with the wisdom of God’s creation.  Take a walk, watch the tide, tend a plant.  Patiently listen for God’s whispers, and the vitality of creation will enlighten you.


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