And Lo! If I take the Wings of the Morning,
And dwell on the furthermost part
Of the Sea...
more than half a century has passed, those words still come to my thoughts
as I view in my minds eye the scene that used to greet me as I came up
on deck each morning. Our ship was ploughing its slow and straight furrow
parallel with, and a few miles off, the very shore upon which the psalmist
author may have trod so many years ago. It was quite early, 5 a.m., for
we were working 'tropical routine', and for a day-man (or 'idler' as the
Naval parlance has it), the day began at that hour. The iron main deck
and the entire superstructure were awash and dripping with dew from the
cool of the night, while the shore was a line of opalescent shadow to
the east, back-lit by the near-to-rising sun.
Many writers, both ancient and modern, have tried to describe the colour
and placidity of those eastern Mediterranean seas with greater or less
success, as I used to try in my letters to my girl friend at home. Nothing
disturbed the surface, other than the long line of our wake connecting
us astern to the far horizon. And then there they were - the 'Wings of
the Morning' - the caiques and coasting schooners, sails full set but
hanging still, with no breath to fill them, but somehow 'ghosting' along
and waiting for the morning breeze.
In the moments as I watched, the sun broke free of the land and even at
that hour it burned. The dew vanished at a touch and the sails took on
a brilliance as the light enveloped them - and the day's work began. How
long it seemed, confined in the small radar cabins as I did my maintenance
checks, until blessed noon when work ceased for all but the duty watch
and the hands were piped to swim. The ship slowed, the whaler was lowered,
and we dived so eagerly from the ship's side and into the cool depths.
What contrasts life throws at us, for within six months I was in an aircraft
carrier battling its way around Britain in January storms of probably
the worst winter of the twentieth century. The mountains of the Isle of
Arran were snow-laden as we sought shelter within its lee and behind Holy
Island, and icy were the winds as we then made our way past Cape Wrath
and John o' Groats and finally to the Forth. But in spite of, or because
of their contrasts, I have never lost my fascination with the seas nor
my desire to be close to or on them. As I stand on my near-by shore as
I often do, the expanse of the sand and the vastness of the dunes trigger
memories of seemingly never ending sunny days on a similar shore where
I grew up in South Wales - of fires of driftwood and smoky tea, and the
long weary trudge home at night. And the high tides and gales of the autumn
equinox bring back clear memories of my mother and her love of the driving
spray on the rocks on probably our last outing of the year.
I wrote earlier of this attraction that water has for me and of the feast
for the imagination with which I have been provided for virtually all
of my life. There must be many individuals who, like me, can just gaze
out to the horizon for seemingly endless time - and what do you
see? In reality or in your own mind's eye or your own imagination? Do
you look for, or even see, Tir Nan Og? Do you believe in the past existence
of Atlantis, and do you give credence to the tales deriving from the alleged
reincarnates from that mythical/real land? And do you gaze horizon-ward
in the hope that some day Atlantis will re-emerge from the depths where
'of its bones are corals made'?
Can I ask
you to put aside what you see, or imagine or hope for, and instead to
join me on the self-same edge of the ocean, there to contemplate the real
magic, the magic of the reality of our origins? Through the medium of
television, and taking advantage of the courage and resource of undersea
explorers in their minute bathyspheres, we can descend in mid-ocean to
the bottom several kilometres below, and there see the origins of the
tectonic plates of the continents and some of the substances of life itself.
In particular, I want you to look at a 'black smoker'. ("Oh dear"
said Alice to herself, nearly scared out of her wits at the thought of
a Black Smoker. The only Smoker she could think of was Grimes the gardener,
and he frightened her sometimes as he puffed continuously at a huge pipe
stuffed with coarse twist, pouring out clouds of smoke which merged with
that from the bonfire he was tending. "Now he always looks very dark"
she said to herself, "but no, he grows such nice flowers, it can't
" - and Alice went and hid herself just in case the real
Black Smoker came along...).
reality of a black smoker as it pours out its gases from the core of the
earth is, in itself, awesome to contemplate, for here in its turbulence
are some of the materials of which we are made and, indirectly, are the
source of life as we know it. In particular, I want you to see the sulphur,
for in its way it is so vital to our very origin and continued existence.
Without the sulphur it is doubtful whether we would have rain. Back on
the surface, and, could you see them, myriads of algae that continue the
process originating in the earth's bowels, taking the sulphur and converting
it into an organic and gaseous form, that then disperses freely into the
atmosphere. And it is around the molecules of this gas that the moisture
evaporated from the seas forms into droplets, into clouds and eventually
rain. Without the algae and the sulphur - no clouds, no rain; no rain,
no erosion of rock to make soil; no soil, no plants; no plants, no us.
But the algae have other mysteries that have long puzzled biologists.
Why are they equipped with anti-freeze? At last, and a paradox only recently
explained. The algae need sunshine to survive and proliferate - but they
create clouds don't they, so isn't that counterproductive, life threatening
even, for sun-loving algae? But the clouds create storms and storms cause
algae to be sucked up and carried to extreme heights where they might
freeze to death - if it wasn't for the anti-freeze; and thus they are
dispersed to other seas, other oceans. One of those incredible marvels
of evolution, or a fantastic attention to detail of a prescient Creator,
whichever you will.
imagination, can I take you even below the black smokers? The molten magma
is oozing in mid-ocean, pouring through these gaps in the earth's crust,
forming new edges to the tectonic plates, forcing them apart and under
continents, creating the tremors and pustules on the earth's skin - the
earthquakes and volcanoes. But even deeper, towards the centre of the
earth, to the molten iron core. Without it you would never have been even
a gleam in your father's eye. Without it life on earth would just not
exist in the form that we know.
Thermal movement of the iron within the core effectively creates a magnet
with two ends or 'poles' that we call north and south. The magnet in turn
creates a magnetic field that, effectively, is our shield. The sun pours
out the 'solar wind' in constant stream - a never-ending flow of electrically
charged particles. Our magnetic shield diverts them, and mostly they flow
harmlessly past. Without our shield, the planet would be 'scoured' by
these particles and would be completely barren, as are the other planets
that have no iron core. The particles of the solar wind arrive into our
upper atmosphere at the poles, and create the magnificent displays of
the auroras, while during peaks of sunspot activity they reach parts of
the earth in quantity, disrupting electronic communication, and subtly
altering the behaviour of sensitive people.
Take out a magnetic compass and unerringly the needle points to the north.
Turn it on its edge and it will point down into the ground at an angle
that depends where on the earth's surface you are - at my latitude it
makes an angle of roughly 80 degrees with the horizontal; elsewhere it
will be different. What it shows you is that always, everywhere, there
is a magnetic field - a component of our evolution. But more than that,
and unless you have special equipment you cannot see, it pulses with incredible
regularity. There are various subtle low energies at frequencies of roughly
one to twenty-five beats per second, but the prime one, and that linked
by most researchers to the process of evolution and continued planetary
life, pulses at 10 hertz (or cycles per second). It is part of the body
clock that if it stops ticking or ticks to a different frequency can cause
illness or even death in some organisms.
I have led you to contemplate, and I hope understand, just a minute few
of the many elements that have been involved in the development and continued
evolution of our lives and the other forms of life on the planet. Elements
that are all pervasive and yet invisible - undetectable to the majority
of us - yet without them we would become ill or die. But die we must -
and what then?
Can we stay here on our lovely open shore without the noise, clutter and
pollution of everyday life, and read or listen to some thoughts from a
delightful book by Irish philosopher and poet John O'Donohue? I first
heard them over the phone from a friend upon whom they had made an instant
impression. Going into the local library later the same day, the first
book upon which my eyes lighted was this self-same Anam Cara - Spiritual
Wisdom from the Celtic World - and so naturally I brought it home
to read, for my friend was quite firm when she said that it would be a
long time before she loaned her copy, so entranced was she with what the
book had to say.
queries whether space and time are different in the eternal world, and
always separates us...Time is primarily linear, disjointed and fragmented.
All of your past days have disappeared; they have vanished. The future
has not come to you yet. All you have is the little stepping-stone of
the present moment.
When the soul leaves the body, it is no longer under the burden of space
and time. The soul is free; distance and separation hinder it no more.
The dead are our nearest neighbours; they are all around us. Meister Eckhart
was once asked, where does the soul of a person go when the person dies?
He said, no place. Where else would the soul be going? Where else is the
eternal world? It can be nowhere other than here. We have falsely spatialized
the eternal world. We have driven the eternal out into some distant galaxy.
Yet the eternal world does not seem to be a place but rather a different
state of being. The soul of the person goes no place because there is
no place else to go. This suggests that the dead are here with us, in
the air that we are moving through all the time. The only difference between
us and the dead is that they are now in invisible form. You cannot see
them with the human eye. But you can sense the presence of those you love
who have died. With the refinement of your soul, you can sense them. You
feel that they are near.
My father used to tell us a story about a neighbour who was very friendly
with the local priest. There is a whole mythology in Ireland about Druids
and priests having special powers. But this man and the priest used to
go for long walks. One day the man said to the priest, where are the dead?
The priest told him not to ask questions like that. But the man persisted
and finally, the priest said, 'I will show you; but you are never to tell
anyone.' Needless to say, the man did not keep his word. The priest raised
his right arm, the man looked out under the raised right hand, and saw
the souls of the departed everywhere all around as thick as the dew on
blades of grass.
Often our loneliness and isolation is due to a failure of spiritual imagination.
We forget that there is no such thing as empty space. All space is full
of presence, particularly the presence of those who are now in eternal,