One sweltering summer’s day we kids were down at the swimming pool. Naturally timid at the tender age of six, I was going past the deep end when two rambunctious boys, chasing at top speed smashed into me, sending me flying. I hit the water with all the force of my considerable forty pounds, and fell for a long, long time into that cold and eerie dark, actually touching bottom. Instinct immediately kicked in; my legs suddenly jettisoning me to the surface in pure, visceral terror. The trauma of that flailing helplessness in an alien element is vividly imprinted. Even now, I don’t even really enjoy the sensation of being wet.
As air-breathing beings, water is not our primary milieu, so something about the deep is primordially chilling. If evolution were true, you’d think we’d be genetically cool with it, but such is not the case.
In the normal course of life, large bodies of water are for amusement. We stay and play in the shallows, both physically and metaphysically. A beach vacation is delightful. Waterskiing provides an exhilarating, speedy skim over the ocean surface. Even a scuba dive among the reefs is marvelous—but a bathyscape expedition? Deep waters? That’s something else entirely.
The siren song of Adventure in life usually draws us outward. Mankind reaches for the stars. For the average Joe, the thrill is found in exotic places, ecological tourism or attending educational conventions. Though there lay within each of us a vast, unexplored territory, few ever actually traverse it. The deep within constitutes the huge, unknown terrain of emotion, memory, subconscious, unconscious, will and desire, and it makes the Mariana trench at 11,000 feet look like a puddle on the sidewalk. The deeps inside ourselves are a shadowy abyss of extreme cold, dark, pressure and unknown dangers. There be monsters.
Frankly, it’s just too scary. Most of us don’t choose the profundities for exploration, but occasionally, life rudely shoves us into the unfathomable end of the pool. Unexpected loss, grief, health issues or threatening external circumstances plunge us down, down, down into places of our own identity we’ve never seen. Existential crisis of midlife finds us peering into its murky depths. Depression, trauma, phobia or failure submerge us. Our own disobedient rebellion drowns us in the Sheol of our own making. We’re in the Deep.
Of such was the case of an ancient character called Jonah. Remember your Sunday School training? God commissioned Jonah to preach in Nineveh, calling the Babylonians to repentance, but his own bias made this job a no-go. Trying to escape the call, he jumped ship and nearly shipwrecked all of them before they took his advice and threw him over.
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said:
I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me.
Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the roots of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.
When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; And my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.
Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. Jonah 1:17-2:10 NKJV
Jonah may have been a scoundrel, but he teaches us something important. When we go down to “the roots of the mountains”, we re-calibrate. There’s a proper respect for life’s preciousness, the awesome sovereignty of God and our own fickle insecurity. The paradox of both how importantly large our life is, and our utter insignificance is magnified.
The year of Covid has confined us. We all went a little stir-crazy because we’re resisting the call to the deep. We don’t enjoy the stew of introspection. We want action. But “Deep is calling unto deep”. Will you answer?
Don’t kick against the goad. Journey with Holy Spirit into the incredibly complex creature you are. Free-fall into the secret, hidden, inscrutable, mysterious substance of your own being. He’ll catch you. Lean in, because you may never get this same opportunity again.
Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord! Psalm 130:1
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