I fell in love with whales in Nova Scotia. We took one of my dream trips that summer, driving from Boston to Nova Scotia and around that wild, wonder-filled maritime province of Canada. It’s still my favorite place I’ve ever been.
I booked a boat tour on the Bay of Fundy, excited at the possibility of spotting our first whale, not counting the Orca I had seen as a little girl at Sea World. Three hours passed with far off dolphins and hordes of seagulls, but no whales. Knowing we’d have to turn back soon, I felt tears of disappointment starting. Our sixteen-year-old daughter had already checked out, sitting on the deck drawing pictures to her boyfriend, while the younger two mentioned to me, every two minutes, how cold it was on the open bay.
Then the captain turned the boat sharply to the west, and he picked up speed. Another captain had spotted humpback whales, and we were in pursuit.
The wonder of two whales so close I could have reached out and felt the barnacles on their backs cannot be explained. Larger than our boat, the pair swam next to us, their backs rising and falling with their great strength and stride. It felt like God had poured part of his power into these animals at creation, and he was swimming there too, right beside us.
Other people enjoy city vacations, with their bustle and endless activities. Some prefer beach resorts with nothing to do but relax. I like the wild, rocky ocean, a boat headed out, and animals in the wild. (Make no mistake, however—I also like hotels and warm, comfy beds at the end of a day in the wild.)
Something about standing at the edge of an ocean, or looking down at a whale gliding next to me, reminds me of the majesty of my creator and the smallness of me.
“Do you know when the wild goats give birth?
Have you watched as deer are born in the wild?
“Who gives the wild donkey its freedom?
Who untied its ropes?
“Will the wild ox consent to being tamed?
Will it spend the night in your stall?
“Have you given the horse its strength
or clothed its neck with a flowing mane?
Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust?
Its majestic snorting is terrifying!
It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength
when it charges out to battle.
It laughs at fear and is unafraid.
It does not run from the sword.
“Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar
and spread its wings toward the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle rises
to the heights to make its nest? (Job 39, NLT)
You might think being reminded of your own smallness and vulnerability would be depressing, but it’s quite the opposite. When all the cares of being a pastor, mom, writer, student, and volunteer crash on me with their intense weight of responsibility, it’s restoring to stand with my toes touching the crashing waves and remember that I am only a drop in that ocean.
For those like me who alternate between despair that we will never finish all that we feel called and able to do and hubris that we’re doing pretty well, the ocean, and whales, are a good reminder. “Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar?”
What I do matters, but it is is a tiny blip in history. That means the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders. It rests on the One who created the sunlight and the tides, the honeybee and the humpback whale. My job isn’t to do all the things, but to remain connected to the One who rotates the earth I walk on.
Whales keep my awe at creation alive; they revive my wonder when it is flagging from too much life in too little time. Isaiah 55.3 says to “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life.” Keeping my ears, and my eyes, open keeps me in a state for wonder, listening for more of God’s good world and allowing it to intrude into my structured, careful agenda that is so often too structured and too carefully protected.
Wonder is all around. William Blake reminds us to try—
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Trying to keep our ears and eyes open reminds us of our finiteness and God’s power to hold everything together.
God, you are the author of all creation and the vine to which we must remain attached. You are the one who guards the thunder and the one who knows each hair on our heads. You are awesome in the best meaning of the word. Make us more aware of your glory and wonder today. Help us to look around us and see. Help us to open our ears and listen. Help us to open our mouths and tell of your glory. Amen.
Photo credit: Jill Richardson