Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Dreamers Odyssey: The Sea is Calling Me

During the last couple of weeks I have felt an overpowering urge to be beside the seaside, to be beside the keeps on calling me...Something from the depths of my being is crying out to go and stare at that wide open vastness. Or maybe it's a call from God calling me?...All I know is that it is an irresistible urge...the sea keeps on calling me.

As I'm sure you've noticed the title of my blog is “I Dream of the Ocean”. Now truth to say is I don’t actually dream of the ocean. I am rarely even aware of dreaming. This, I am told, is due to the fact that I sleep so deeply that I am rarely conscious of my unconscious. I am only really aware of dreaming three or four times a year and this is usually when I’m suffering from anxiety or dealing with guilt.

A friend recently told me that water in dreams is tied in with our emotions and that it symbolises something moving from an unconscious level to the conscious level. The sea it would seem represents the transition between the two. It suggests the coming of a new perspective and a new hope no matter what the current difficulties may be.

This makes some sense to me. Maybe this yearning for the sea is keeping me looking forward in hope. It is drawing me out of myself, I do believe in “The Lure of Divine Love”. I have come to know it so well. 

I am not dreaming of the ocean though am I? I am experiencing this urge, this calling, in my conscious moments. It is occurring in my waking hours and not my sleeping ones. Well actually I’m sure it is occurring during my sleeping hours, it’s just that I’m only aware of it while I’m physically awake.

This calling has had a grip on me for about a year now. It struck on a trip to Blackpool. I had gone to the Aquatic centre. It’s an amazing place, but it did not hold my interest that day. All I wanted to do was go outside and look at the sea and feel the wind all around me. I wanted the space and I wanted the freedom. I will never forget looking up and seeing the seagull floating above as I stared out to sea. On reflection I suppose that all of this was deeply symbolic. A relationship was sadly coming to an end and I was in denial about it. The sea and the seagull were drawing me out of myself, I can see this now.

The call of the sea really took a hold at last year’s Unitarian Annual Meetings in Swansea. They were set by the sea and each day I would walk on the beach alone, stare out into the nothingness and feel the wind coursing all around me. The relationship had just about come to an end by then and I was no longer in denial about this. The walks on the beach and the staring out into the abyss were partially about me letting go, but they were also about reconnecting to hope, to God and understanding what I am here to do. That “Lure of Divine Love”, felt very strong there. Those few days in Swansea were a celebration of Bob Pounder, Daniel Costley and myself becoming Unitarian ministers.

As soon as I returned from Swansea I began my blogging adventure. I gave my blog the title “I Dream of The Ocean” after a line in the New Model Army song “Ocean Rising”. One of the major themes of my blogs is hope growing from despair and I think that this is what this call to the ocean is all about.

"Ocean Rising" by New Model Army

The call to the ocean and the call to the sea is a common theme. Our history and literature is rich with such stories. Several friends of mine have recounted personal tales when they were called to sea over the last few days.

It is the story of Odysseus that always springs to my mind when I think of the sea.  Homer’s Odyssey is rich in metaphor and speaks to a universal human condition. He sets out from Troy for the Isle of Ithaca where his wife and son await his homecoming. The journey is fraught with danger and distractions.

Trouble begins when Odysseus blinds one of the sons of Poseidon during battle. Poseidon in his rage blows his crew off course by sending storm after storm and brings all kinds of trouble to the adventurers. At one point they land on the Isle of Lotus Eaters. Here they eat poisonous leaves which produce a memory erasing, death inducing waking sleep; as a result they lose sight of home and become lost. Eventually they escape and fortune appears to turn in their favour as they arrive at the island home of Aeolus, the king of the winds. Here the weary travellers finds rest bite and Aeolus puts all the winds that have been blowing them off course in a bag and sets them back on track, they can now head for home. But just as they sight Ithaca, the men let the winds out of the bag and once again they are blown off course. They land on the isle of Aeaea, home of the Greek Goddess Circe. Here they become trapped and spell bound by the beautiful allures of the island. The men are cursed and turned to pigs. The curse is only lifted when Odysseus agrees to become Circe's consort. Once again disaster appears to have befallen them but somehow Odysseus is rescued from the comfort of her arms and persuaded to continue on his journey home, by his men.

On the way back to Ithaca the crew pass through the Underworld. Here Odysseus is guided by the blind prophet Teiresias, who reveals the dangers he has yet to face before he can once again gain Poseidon’s favour. He is offered full knowledge of the dangers of the Sirens songs and even a solution to them, which he passes on to his crew. The crew ignore the warnings and become trapped by the Sirens songs. Odysseus secures himself by chaining himself to the mast, but most of his crew, enchanted by the sirens songs, plunge into the reef and to their deaths.

Odysseus must now navigate the channel between the six headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. He has by now lost most of his crew and in order to pass through must sacrifice six more men. He passes through and is finally washed up on the shores of Phaecia. Here he tells his story and wins Poseidons forgiveness. Finally he can return home.

Finally Odysseus reaches Ithaca, but fails to recognise it as home. In his despair he drags himself along the shoreline and comes across the goddess Athena, dressed as a young shepherd. Exhausted and seemingly close to death he begs her tell him where he is. She gazes at him through her star like eyes and replies “Sir, you must be a simpleton or have travelled very far from your home to ask me what country this is.”

How true this, how few of us recognise the treasure we are surrounded by. We go on wild adventures seeking oh so many things and we lose so much on the way, including friends who are dear to our hearts. The truth is, of course, that what we were searching for was there all along, we just couldn’t recognise it. We still can’t recognise it some days, even when we return to that place of love after we have escaped from disaster. We rarely recognise the treasures in our very hands. We already have the answer deep within us, imprinted in our DNA we just need to connect to it.

The Odyssey is a story that speaks powerfully to me. I fell in love with it due to the Coen Brother’s modern day adaptation “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”. A film that offers bitter sweet memories for me. You see the film always brings Ethan to my mind, a song from it was played at his funeral “Fly Away, Oh Fly Away.” The seagull on the beach in Blackpool got me to think of him too, I felt his presence there and then. I always do when I feel a little lost.

Birds are just as important to me today as the sea is. They keep calling me too. In many traditions the bird is of course a symbol of the soul and as I have said before it was Ethan, in his short life, who showed me how to connect to my soul and to the universal soul that I call God.

We can all connect to that that is deep within us and all life. No matter how far we get blown off course we can return home. We cannot control the wind, we do not get to choose what happens to us; but we do get to choose how we respond to these event. We can set our sails accordingly.  Remember Odysseus and his crew were given directions on how to avoid the sirens but most of the crew chose to ignore this advice and as a result they perished.

These days I try to head the call, however it comes to me; whether it’s the call from the sea or the birds in the air or the birds in the tree, or from the folk around me. Yes sometimes I still go off on my own and I get lost and sometimes I even flee but eventually I remember that everything I’m searching for is already here. The gifts are bountiful and all around me, I’ve just got to open my eyes and see.

Love is universal it is open to all, no one is excluded from it and no one can flee its range and reach. All that we have to do is learn to recognise it, because I know that sometimes it is hard to see. Even so it is always there calling, calling us out to sea.

1 comment:

  1. I was sent this by a member of one the congregations I serve in response to worship I created on the subject covered in this blog...

    Hi Danny,

    Your sermon reminded me of something, especially the seagull.


    There is a village in British Columbia called Kingcome. It stands on the flat land where

    the Kingcome River, flowing down from the ice-cap on Silverthrone Mountain, enters

    the Kingcome Inlet. Perhaps ‘inlet’ is a rather feeble descriptor for such an impressive

    fjord surrounded by forest-clad mountains. This is a very remote part of the Canadian

    west coast; the only roads are logging tracks leading up into a few side valleys, so the

    visitor must approach it by boat or in the floatplane that delivers the mail.

    I have been there twice. The plane lands on the water and motors up to the jetty, rapidly

    losing speed against the strong-flowing river. Someone comes out with a boathook and

    the pilot climbs out onto the nearside float and delivers the mail and parcels, and a

    passenger may get on or off. On my first visit, watching the powerful current swirling past,

    I asked the pilot if he had ever found himself swimming in the icy water, with the plane

    drifting rapidly away from him. Twice, he said.

    A wild and beautiful place, it is home of the Kwakiutl nation, and they have an interesting

    belief: the woods are full of owls, great and small, and if you should hear an owl call your

    name, your remaining days are few and you should settle your affairs.

    And today I suddenly remembered another owl. Twenty-seven years ago, on a sunny

    December day, I took my 79-year-old mother on a drive up the Lancashire coast. Being a

    bird-watcher I knew that hordes of gulls, waders, wild swans and geese had arrived from

    the Arctic and would be foraging the beaches and fields all around Southport. We had a

    great day, and as we turned for home by the sinking sun, we passed a field swarming with

    Pink-footed Geese digging for carrots, so I stopped the car alongside the boundary ditch

    and we got out for a good look. And then the magic happened - Short-eared Owls hunt in

    daylight, and one came floating silently towards us, just above the ditch , passing little

    more than an arm’s length away. Mother was enchanted - a perfect day, she said.

    Two days later she had a stroke and within a week she was dead.