Thursday, January 12, 2012

To Rest Like a Whale


He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty 
 I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress
My God, in whom I trust !"  
 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper 
And from the deadly pestilence 
He will cover you with His pinions
And under His wings you may seek refuge
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark 
You will not be afraid of the terror by night
Or of the arrow that flies by day 
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon 
A thousand may fall at your side 
And ten thousand at your right hand
But it shall not approach you.  
You will only look on with your eyes 
And see the recompense of the wicked.
For you have made the LORD, my refuge
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent 
For He will give His angels charge concerning you, 
To guard you in all your ways 
They will bear you up in their hands
That you do not strike your foot against a stone 
You will tread upon the lion and cobra
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down 
"Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; 
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name 
"He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble
I will rescue him and honor him.  
"With a long life I will satisfy him 
And let him see My salvation."
Psalm 91

Although this poem describes utter safety, for some reason my mental image is hectic. I see an animal of prey– a bunny, a fawn, a wounded bird maybe– trembling with danger and pain. My quivering conception of safety is a place to pass out when you can no longer stay awake worrying. Although I know the right things to say about security and rest, my real understanding of it is startlingly revealed in the picture I see in my head. I realized how impoverished my image is last night while reading.

In Moby Dick, the character Ishmael narrates an encounter with a gathering of pod upon pod of sperm whales banded together for protection. Though the outer ring of whales was chaotic, one boat of whalers chanced to be pulled into the center of the miles-wide ring of sea giants. Wedged between two enormous whales they looked about them. 

" if the cows and calves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every way innocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales- now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake- evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they came snuffing round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.
But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;- even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar's bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby's ears newly arrived from foreign parts.
"Line! line!" cried Queequeg, looking over the gunwale; "him fast! him fast!- Who line him! Who struck?- Two whale; one big, one little!"
"What ails ye, man?" cried Starbuck.
"Look-e here," said Queequeg, pointing down.
As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled out hundreds of fathoms of rope; as, after deep sounding, he floats up again, and shows the slackened curling line buoyantly rising and spiralling towards the air; so now, Starbuck saw long coils of the umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan, by which the young cub seemed still tethered to its dam. Not seldom in the rapid vicissitudes of the chase, this natural line, with the maternal end loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one, so that the cub is thereby trapped. Some of the subtlest secrets of the seas seemed divulged to us in this enchanted pond. We saw young Leviathan amours in the deep.
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yes, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy." –excerpt from Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Chapter 87  

Just think of that clear water-window down into the secret lives of whales nursing and making love, ringed by steadfast guardian bulls. How much safer am I encircled by the protection of God? The reason I am not free to rest like a suckling baby whale is not that I am not safe, it's that I panic and leave the safety I am offered through trust.

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