Rev Elaine Julian ‘Ocean Sunday’ Sunday, September 4th

Theme Speaker: Mike Morrell. Many thanks to Mike for helping us see the shoreline of Denman Island through his eyes!

Good News: Proverbs 8:1, 22-31 The Inclusive Bible

Doesn’t Wisdom call? Doesn’t Understanding raise her voice?
YHWH gave birth to me at the beginning, before the first acts of creation. I have been from everlasting, in the beginning, before the world began.

Before the deep seas, I was brought forth,

before there were fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains erupted into place,
before the hills, I was born –
before God created the earth or its fields, or even the first clods of dirt.I was there when the Almighty created the heavens,
and set the horizon just above the ocean,
set the clouds in the sky, and established the springs of the deep, Gave the seas their boundaries and set the limits at the shoreline. When the foundation of the earth was laid out,
I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty.
I was God’s delight day after day, rejoicing at being in God’s presence continually,
rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind. Reader: Holy Wisdom, Holy Word. Thanks be to God!

Reflection: “Theomoana: An Ocean Based Theology”

I suspect that some of you cringed just a little when you read the title of this reflection, and I suspect that the word causing your discomfort is “theology”. So let’s talk a bit about that word.

In July I attended a week-long summer course in the Indigenous Studies Program at VST called “21st Century Theology: Modern, Postmodern and Indigenous”. The professor, Randy Furushima, stressed on the first day that theology is not a static thing, but something we all do. He asked, how do we begin to theologize? He suggested that we start by responding to this existential question: Who are we and why are we here? And he shared this juicy quote from Jurgen Moltmann, a well-known author and professor of Systematic Theology:

Theology starts where you are, in your sufferings, passions, dreams. As a theologian, start where you are.

And so, our professor continued, we journey together, we listen and tell stories, and we wrestle with questions. And that is what it means to theologize. We start where we are, and together in community we try to make meaning out of our lives and our experience.

Throughout our week together, one way that Randy encouraged us to make meaning together was through photographs. Each day we all looked at a photo together and shared about the stories and memories they evoked and the meaning that we found as we reflected on them. As we did this, we became aware of how dramatically our specific lives and worldviews, our families and our traditions, affected what we saw and how we understood the images. For example, one photo showed a solitary person sitting on a bench in a park looking at a waterfall. One student was reminded of the peace she found beside a flowing stream whenever she needed time to herself. Another, on hearing that the garden is located in Munich, Germany, remembered his traumatic visit to nearby Dachau, site of one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. A Stoney Nakoda woman remembered the sacred water in Banff National Park that they weren’t allowed to visit after the Park was created. Some saw the obstacles of the rocks in the stream, others remembered all the Biblical references to living water and the new life to be found in baptism. And through all those responses, we grew as we listened to each other.

So that’s one way of encouraging you not to be put off by the word theology. It includes but is not limited to the dry and dusty volumes of academic writing that we tend to associate with that word. Theologizing is done by us whenever we ask questions and tell stories.

Moltmann said “As a theologian, start where you are.” And how fortunate we are to start where we are, to live so close to the ocean, to the sparkling sunlit water and the raging waves, the source of abundant food and the taker of lives, the mysterious depths and the sandy beaches. How fortunate we are to know Ocean on a daily basis, not just as the backdrop for a brief vacation. And we share that connection with all the peoples that live around the edges or in the middle of the great Pacific Ocean.

If we start where we are with our meaning-making, our theologizing, we can’t ignore the power of Ocean. The waters covering the face of the Earth are integral to nearly every Creation story. We see that in our scripture reading this morning, when Wisdom or Sophia says:

I was there when the Almighty created the heavens, and set the horizon just above the ocean,

Set the clouds in the sky, and established the springs of the deep,

Gave the seas their boundaries and set their limits at the shoreline.

We also see ocean’s primal presence in the origin stories of the Indigenous peoples of the northwest coast of Turtle Island. For example, a story from the Haida people tells how Raven was lonely, and as he walked the beach a huge clam shell emerged from the sand and tiny little people began to emerge.

Each mother and father came out together, holding and protecting their children from any harm…They looked at the beautiful crashing waves along the sandy beach…They could see the sea resources at their immediate reach. They smiled and were happy. These were the original Haida people. The Haida people were born between the land and the sea. (from “Haida Eagle Treasures” by Pansy Collison)

This story is quite different from the origin stories of more land-based Indigenous peoples. For example, here is a brief version of the Sky Woman story of the Haudenosaunee people of eastern Canada and the US, from the Canadian Museum of History website:

Long before the world was created, there was an island in the sky inhabited by sky people. One day a pregnant sky woman drops through a hole created by an uprooted tree and begins to fall for what seems like eternity.

Coming out of darkness, she eventually sees oceans. The animals from this world congregate, trying to understand what they see in the sky. A flock of birds is sent to help her. The birds catch her and gently guide her down onto the back of Great Turtle. The water animals like otter and beaver have prepared a place for her on turtle’s back. They bring mud from the bottom of the ocean and place it on turtle’s back until solid earth begins to form and increase in size.

Turtle’s back becomes Sky Woman’s home and the plants she’s brought down with her from Skyworld, including tobacco and strawberries, are her medicine. She makes a life for herself and becomes the mother of Haudenosaunee life, as we know it today.

(Shelley Niro, Kanien’kehaka, 1999, Keller George, Oneida Haudenosaunee, 2001, Alan Brant, Tyendinaga, 2001)

All these stories communicate the foundational importance of the ocean in every place and culture.

Professor Randy Furushima is from Hawaii and of Japanese descent. His name, fittingly, means “old island”. From these roots he has been reaching out for several decades to explore the commonalities and differences in the theologies of peoples all around the Pacific Rim, both Indigenous and Christian. He focusses on “contextual theology”, theology formed in the place and culture of its origins.

Theomoana combines the Greek word for God with the Polynesian word for ocean. It is, as Randy says, “a powerful metaphor for the interconnectedness of life, with the moana constituting three quarters of the entire surface of the planet earth…Theomoana is the encompassing, interconnecting nature of God.” From a Polynesian perspective, he names the five ancient oceanic values: Hospitality, Identity, Unity in Diversity, Sharing Stories and Sharing Gifts.

This idea of Theomoana has great appeal for me as someone who lives beside the ocean. We spend quite a bit of time on our balcony hoping to see whales – orca and humpbacks – and sometimes actually seeing them! In fact, in our best sighting this year, one large humpback surfaced and dove right in front of our house yesterday. Every single time I see them, they gift me with such a sense of awe and mystery. Their hugeness and power amaze me. Because they only appear briefly at the surface, we can just barely comprehend the vast unknown of the water world they inhabit, yet they share our mammalian characteristics. They are both familiar and completely unfamiliar. They remind me of God, both here and with us, and completely incomprehensible.

Finally, continuing with the idea of theologizing through photos, let me share a little bit about the photo above. I took it on my way to the course, from the ferry about to dock at Tsawwassen. I call it “The Silty Fraser Meets the Pacific.”

It speaks to me of Theomoana, of contextual and Indigenous theologies. It speaks of both land and ocean, the Fraser River linking all of interior British Columbia to the ocean, bringing some of that land to the sea as particles of soil and minerals from the land and our vanishing glaciers. It shows hybridity, a melding of elements in which both still retain their integrity. It shows Turtle Island and Moana meeting and enriching each other.

May we continue learning from our ancestor and provider the Ocean. May we understand the need to care for both Ocean and Land so that the ancient balance is maintained. May we, like Sophia, grow in wisdom, co- creators with Creator, daily God’s delight and delighting in the human race.

Let us pray: Creator God, please grant us the nourishment of the earth, the clarity of the light, the fluency of the ocean, and the protection of the ancestors. Amen.

For Reflection:

What do we learn from Oceans?

What does the ocean photo bring forth for you?

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