When I arrived at University at age 17, I joked about filing a lawsuit against my elementary and high school board of education as compensation for all the things they never taught me. “How,” I asked anyone within earshot, “is it possible that I have arrived at this place with so many things I don’t know.”
Sometimes I feel that way about my religious education as well. I find myself years on wondering why I am hearing so many things for the first time. The background context to familiar stories. The way a passage in the NT ties in with several in the OT. The manner in which a story can be processed correctly on two different levels.
Depth. Richness. Passion. All the things that weren’t present the first time around those texts.
Like the thing about the people at the time of Christ having a phobia about the sea. It makes no sense, a large voting block of the disciples were fishermen. Boats. Water. Fish. And yet…
Knowing about the aquaphobia (fear of water) that characterized people in the times and places where scripture originates is actually helpful to understanding a number of Bible passages and narratives. R. C. Sproul writes.
The Mediterranean coast of western Palestine is marked by rocky shoals and jutting mountains. The ancient Hebrews did not develop a sea trade because the terrain was not suitable for much shipping. The sea represented trouble to them. It was from the Mediterranean that violent storms arose.
We see this contrasting imagery in Psalm 46. The psalmist writes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (vv. 1–3). Then he adds, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God” (v. 4).
…But the Jews feared other problems from the sea besides turbulent storms. Their traditional arch-rivals, marauders who beset them countless times, were a seacoast nation. The Philistines came from the direction of the sea.
The [nation of Israel] looked forward to a new world where all the evils symbolized by the sea would be absent. The new earth will have water. It will have a river. It will have life-giving streams. But there will be no sea there.
The sea represented chaos, the earth looks forward to a restoration of order. The New Earth has a river running through it, but there is no sea…
…Why am I writing this today?
As you get older, your memory starts to contain the summation of all the various stories you’ve heard; from friends, from newspapers, from television, etc. Each of these is filed away in your mind by category, and one of those classifications would involve water accidents. Boats sinking. Drownings. Persons lost at sea.
I’m realizing that with the arrival of summer, there is a thing where Canadians want to be near a body of water. Perhaps it’s because our summer is so short, and our temperatures run to great extremes. We want to (literally) dive in and experience the heat of the sun and the cool of the lake at the same time.
But I’m also realizing that I now have a healthy respect for the water. Some friends have a pond that is spring fed and there’s a point in the middle where I can’t begin to imagine how deep it is. I find myself getting more nervous venturing out that far. I think of the ocean, but then I hear stories of rip tides, something that just wasn’t in my consciousness on the annual family trip to Miami Beach and I want to rethink my memories. I think of the Great Lakes, one of which is just blocks from my house, but I’m reminded of stories of hypothermia, and it tempers my desire to go out on boats large and small. The water represents the unknown.
Is this an age thing, or simply the result of news overload? Do we reach a point where we regress and become the little child afraid of the waves? What about the classification of healthy fears; is this one admissible? Have I become J. Alfred Prufrock from the poem by Eliot?
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
No, not hearing mermaids singing. Not so far, anyway.
But definitely at a point where pictures of the sea can be frighteningly beautiful.
Credit: The middle photograph was taken by Mark Batterson
Aquaphobia is a basic fear of water; the fear of the sea is called Thalassophobia