I grew up on the shores of the beautiful Puget Sound. Sunday mornings after church were spent sitting beside the water, watching it lap up against the breaks near the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, watching seagulls and boats go by, and watching waves crash.
As a kid, I was not troubled with the origin of waves or other deeper existential questions. Rather, I found myself in awe of the wave’s crash. Where the wave came from did not so much matter as what the wave did. How high would the break splash up off the seawall? How far up the beach would it flow after impact? What was the reach and the power of the wave?
According to an Introduction to Oceanography text from San Francisco State University, “The waves that break on the beach were created by wind blowing over water. As they travel away from the area where they were generated they evolve into long, smooth-crested waves called “swell waves.”
Swell waves can travel for very long distances across the ocean without losing the energy they acquired from the wind. Local wind can also generate waves. These are called “sea waves” and have short, choppy shapes. So sea waves are generated locally and swell waves are generated far away in the open ocean.
Through the narrative and academic work we do at The Seattle School, we are exploring the intersection of both the swell and sea waves of our lives. We look back on the swell—what has happened as winds have blown on us, long ago, setting us on a trajectory that has taken years to unfold, the swelling power of experience and trauma, the aftermath of growth and change. And we engage the sea waves—that which is stirred up here in the messy, joyful possibility of academic study and discourse and the challenges of our daily engagement with one another.
The sea waves of our today interact with the swell waves of our past, highlighting the complexity of the power that is rising within us and which may be harnessed towards some end, some task, some place where our waves may break and be transformed.
As a pastor-in-training, my attention is drawn to the church. The church rides the swell waves of tradition, built up over time and propelled with the shifts of the wind. The church is also frothed up by the sea waves of today, the passions of culture, the fresh winds of the Spirit. I believe this program is preparing me to engage the church on both of those levels.
First, through my own process of learning and understanding the long form of the swelling waves of the church, I am learning how I might ride along with tradition and engage the immense, long-built power which it holds. Studies in scripture, systematics, liturgy, worship, polity, and practices of social engagement—the church has long traditions of these which resonate out from God’s covenant with Abraham and God’s love manifest in Christ. At The Seattle School and through the formative struggle of graduate school, I am learning to ride the wave of tradition in such a way that I can honor where we have been by how I lead in the church in the future.
Second, I am learning to pay attention to the sea waves of the church: the local expressions of the Spirit, manifesting in the world today that provide a freshness and character to the long form waves of tradition. Through our passion for the neighborhood, we engage the sea waves of our particular communities not as distractions from the grand mission of God but as clear, present signs of God’s calling and movement right in front of us. How do the sea waves of this moment interact with tradition? While riding the swell wave of tradition, how might I see the liturgies and sacramental practices of the present moment?
For instance, what might the gathering of thousands of Seahawks fans on the streets of downtown Seattle following the Super Bowl tell us about humanity’s desire to worship, to respond and engage ritual, to act collectively upon a common cause? Or what might the loneliness of an elderly woman in my congregation tell me about loving the widow or the orphan in the here and now?
My hope is that The Seattle School’s MDiv program is not only preparing me to ride the swell waves of tradition and adapt to the ever-changing sea waves of today, but that in some way, I am learning to make waves myself. Formed and trained in the ways of a pastor, counselor, therapist, artist, provocateur, might we also be called to stir up the sea—to stand in this moment and see the needs of the world we live in, to look backwards and forwards and witness the telos of God, the God who is beginning and end, on the way? We ourselves might be used as wind to swell, stir, and crash through acts of justice, mercy, and humility in the world.
It has been my experience at The Seattle School that this generative movement is possible—difficult, uncomfortable, and disrupting, but also enlivening, quickening, and hopeful. May the powerful winds of the Spirit continue to blow us each unto this strong, vital work of making waves.
Image credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos