The Call of the Ocean
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness; and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98:8-9 (NRSV)
I was first introduced to the ocean at 11 years old when my siblings and I spent the summers with our father in Miami, Florida. Sundays were beach days. Playing in the ocean, getting used to the saltiness of the water, learning that Black skin does sunburn, and finding out that grains of sand could work themselves into every nook and cranny of our bodies were integral to our summer education. Those beach days were good days with the ocean as the backdrop for lasting sibling memories, while the ocean covertly birthed a yearning within me to go to the water as a place of respite whenever I could.
During those youthful times, the ocean also broke cultural barriers. The ocean was the place of exploration and discovery. We noticed the varying skin colors, eye shapes, and linguistic accents of people that were different than ours. This broadened our awareness that the world was bigger than our zip code. Conversely, beach days were also spent explaining to Floridian youth why we ‘talked funny’, and that, ‘Yes, we do wear shoes in Kentucky’, thus adding spice to their ‘gumbo-lives’ of diversity that we did not have at home.
However, over the years, the ocean became a menace to me. As I experienced the call of the ocean in family vacations and chaperoned Spring Break trips for our sons and their friends, the water was a clear and present danger for the frolicking antics of reckless youths. In parenthood, I constantly counted heads to make sure that everyone was present and accounted for. I also began to wonder if my ancestors had dreaded the sounds that the ocean made as slave ships sliced through the water, pirating countless Black peoples away from the motherland to foreign places of oppression. How could this be that the ever faithful ocean that had been the joy of summer visits with Dad had become such a threat to those I loved and to those who had come before me? Yet, the ocean continued to call me.
One night during our last pre-college family vacation, I remember standing on the balcony of our hotel room listening to the ocean ebb and flow under the brightness of a full moon. It was there that the ocean again called, acting as the place of discovery and reconciliation. Gone were the threat of danger to my loved ones, and the dread of my ancestors. This time, the ocean called and introduced me to the greatness of God. On that balcony, my spirit was overwhelmed by the glory of our loving and victorious God. The God that Psalm 98 proclaims, ‘…will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.’ Therefore, as God’s people, we have a promise and a blessed hope! One day, we, along with the seas will clap our hands, and sing together with the hills for joy at the presence of the Lord.
Prayer: During this Advent Season, listen for the call of the Holy Spirit as God’s Spirit whispers in ways that are particular for your hearing. Discover that place in Creation where you hear God’s voice most clearly. Spend time there, drawing strength, courage and wisdom as the Body of Christ prepares for the coming of our Lord.
Rev. Angela Johnson is Pastor of the 120 year-old Grace Hope Presbyterian Church, a predominately African American urban congregation located in the Smoketown Community of Louisville, KY. Rev. Johnson received a Master of Divinity degree and a Certificate in Black Church Studies from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from Louisville Seminary.