I almost don’t approach the surf—
shielded by a laundry list of justifications:
it’s too hot,
this sunburn has turned my legs to crisps,
I have too much work to do,
it’s too far.
On a Scrabble board in a bright red bar,
I play the word RAGE,
he plays the word TRUCE.
The salt water stings my eyes
as I go under.
Ungainly flaps of seaweed bob in the drab Rockaway waves.
The salt begins to cure my hands to pemmican,
drying my hair into brittle pasta strands.
The tide pulls at my legs, sucking me through a deep, sunny warm spot in the ocean into the dark ice water of the purer depths.
Tiny mussel shells dot the beach, dark purples and blues,
stuck together, despite the surf.
Inside, they are iridescent and dark.
I describe prayer, as I let the ‘F’s and ‘Y’s idle in my deck.
If prayer is the practice of ecstasy, the discipline of losing one’s illusion of control, am I really making a distinction between worship and LSD?
The sun goes behind a cloud,
I step on something sharp: is it driftwood or worse?
Lakes are different than oceans,
but both require a submission to a mystery.
In the lake, the hydrilla flicks against my belly as I breast stroke to the raft, a reminder that the water underneath the sparkling surface teems with hidden life.
In the sea, small slips of shell or fish slip underfoot, whispers of the world lying past the breakers.\
A waterfall is different, the running waters of a fresh glacier rapid are the living water that delights. It’s a fearless, transparent joy.
Large bodies like the sea require a gift of self, a surrender to this dark beauty I cannot see through, that I cannot fully be a part of but I ache to.
The running water of the small channel bursting from the falls is effortlessly participatory, it rejuvenates, quite literally. A million fresh-water baptisms, returning you to what in you is most pure in that it is essential. The brook doesn’t demand surrender, it invites you into its rushing currents.
Want to join in the vast expanse of life beyond the death-trap of the beach?
Yes—our whole body and soul sings yes. I want to be in it, under it, within it, effortlessly part of the ebb and swell of waves. Instinct deeper than fear pulls me to it.
The ocean demands your surrender. So does prayer.
But not just surrender to Mystery,
but surrender to a person—a person who gives back to you, like the brook.
Yes, the God of Job is a God of power, who knows where the waterfalls begin, where the oceans end, what lives within its depths. But God is not the ocean—God is a being who can speak with Job, who became a fragile, breakable loser of a human just like Job.
Then prayer is not just the negative discipline of “letting go” or moving outside oneself. It’s a coming back into oneself, it’s a listening to all things, not just for their own sake, but for the God who moves them.
Oceans are good, but oceans created by and representative of a person—a being, a someone who you can be in relationship with (whatever that means: a series of lakes and oceans, rages and truces, babbling brooks) are better. Prayer is also then a discipline of seeing—seeing the beloved where you might not otherwise.
I sleep all the way home on the train.
In the soft evening, Harlem is submerged in blue, in periwinkle twilight
like an ocean.