For a variety of reasons, I tend to be deeply drawn to the water. As long as I can remember, I have found some degree of peace in the babbling of a gentle brook, the furious sound of water rushing over falls, or the rhythm of the ocean waves lapping up on the shore. In its proper place, water is very calming for a soul that happens to be somewhat restless and anxious by nature. However, there is a darker side to being drawn to the sea. As I have written about before , in the depths of a long and deep depression I had to fight against the urge to take Virginia Woolf’s sad little walk in the water. Though I succeeded, the experience has left me particularly sensitive to the mental and emotional (and spiritual) health of others, and to recognize that people travel a tougher road than is generally visibly obvious.
Given my own interest in water, it is not too surprising, I suppose, that I am drawn to songs where the sea is viewed with a sense of great longing. Whether we are talking about the vain proclamations of a philandering singer that he will never roam from his lover, but rather the rhythm of his heart will be as eternal as that of the ocean, or we are talking about troubled souls whose heart is buried under the iron sea, or other singers who are worried that their loved ones who belong with them are swallowed in the sea, the sea has long been a metaphor for songs that have touched me deeply, given that I too have that melancholy pull towards the deep, whether it is in depth of understanding or the depth of searching and questioning and frustrated longing.
In this life it is all too easy to put our faith in the wrong things, or to be unprepared for the depth of suffering in our lives. For example, I had an uncle who was alcoholic and a bit violent (by the standards of my family) who could not endure life after the death of his father, and so he ended his life with a gun some four years or so after my grandfather’s death. Today I read about the death of a troubled country music singer named Mindy McCready by the same means after being unable to cope with the death of her boyfriend (presumably also by suicide). Having stared down the black hole of despair in my own life, I am a great deal more sensitive to the suffering of others.
This world is full of great brokenness and despair. There are many reasons for this despair, as any number of trials, be they poverty or loneliness or poor health or the emptiness of success and wealth or any number of other problems can lay us low and make us despair of life being any better. People fill up the chasms of their life with money and sex and drugs and alcohol and work and find that nothing they do is able to fill the whole in their hearts, because the peace they look for cannot be found under the sun, but can only be found in heaven above.
Speaking for myself personally, for a very long time I did not think that God was listening to what I thought were very modest requests, and that my longings would be forever frustrated. However, having seen divine providence work in my life in particularly dramatic ways, I figured that the requests I had of God would be dealt with in their own time and in their own way, and I resolved to do the best that I could given such opportunities as I had. Who knows where they will lead, after all, and I rather enjoy the path they are taking right now.
Part of what makes life so difficult to keep in good spirits is that we never know the course of our life exactly, or what God has in store for us (since He chooses not to tell us every detail). We have to walk in faith, and it is easy for us to be overwhelmed by what are massive problems for us and easy matters for God to deal with. Often those trials are not present to mock us, but rather to refine us and strengthen us. It is often difficult to see that purpose in the midst of the suffering, and those without a solid grounding of faith are like rafts carrying refugees tossed in the raging storm-tossed seas, which is hardly a place where people feel safe.
Nevertheless, even if I do not feel comfortable whistling past the graveyard or looking down on those who have been swallowed by the sea, I do not wallow in despair over the sadness and brokenness of this world. I know that this world has been broken because we are free to decide how to live, and that freedom leads to great suffering for ourselves and others. Likewise, I know that the solution to this brokenness in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ exists, and that the broken people and families and institutions of this world will eventually be rebuilt according to His ways. Having a pretty decent knowledge of brokenness myself, I long for the day that there is healing and wholeness where emptiness and misery are temporary residents. Though that day has not yet arrived, I know it will come eventually, even for those who have temporarily succumbed to despair. For even if we hide in the deeps, we cannot escape from the love and concern of our heavenly Father and of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.