With today’s post, we welcome Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon to the writing team for Abiding in Exile. Many of you know Mary from her twenty years of service through the Office of Pastoral Care and Counseling. She now serves as senior pastor at Collegiate UMC and Wesley Foundation in Ames. A more complete bio and photo is available at our writer page.
When I lived in California, many years ago now, a friend of mine took several people out on a sailboat. We went sailing out into the Pacific Ocean, and it was a beautiful summer day. We sailed a long time out in the ocean, and then after lunch, we decided to head back. But as we were turning around, and we looked to the side of the boat, we saw a long gray whale surfacing within feet of our sailboat. The whale was easily twice as long as the boat.
I think it was one of the most magnificent things I’ve witnessed, this huge whale rising up alongside our little boat. Then it would submerge itself leaving what is called a “whale print” or what used to be called the “blow wake.” That whale swam alongside our boat for a good twenty minutes or more, sometimes on the surface, sometimes disappearing and leaving the whale print for us to see.
I don’t know if you have ever seen such a thing, but it reminded me of the exquisite and tremendous hand of God in all of the created order, in all of life, including mine. And I don’t know if you are aware but a whale print, or blow-wake, is an absolutely still space of water left when the whale submerges. Even if the sea around it is swelling or violent, the whale print is still and serene, quiet and calm.
About four years after that sailing adventure, Leonard Sweet published a book called, Quantum Spirituality.What caught me as I read his book, was Leonard, too, had had an experience with whales and with the image of the whale print. Over these last thirty years, I am not sure, exactly, what Leonard had to say or what simply emerged for me as I pondered what I had seen, but together it is something like this: perhaps for us living today, our faith communities, our families, and our very lives might become whale prints of calm and invitation to those who have forgotten or have never known the intimacy of God in their lives.
A question arose for me as I have thought about the whale print and as I have experienced my own life and the lives of those I have encountered. What makes the difference between the times when, in the sea of our lives, a disturbance to the water causes it to fracture, ripple or fragment and when, like the whale submerging, the water is left calm and still? I am not wholly sure, but one thing I have come to believe is that when we submerge like the whale into the depths of our inner lives, and into the deep and hidden places where God often meets us, we may be blessed with the still point, the moment of stillness, the calm invitation to know we are deeply loved and completely made for love. We might do this by contemplative prayer, mindfulness meditation, walking the labyrinth, or simply sitting for a moment in our backyards or in our studies or walking a forest trail. We might do this by seeing something extraordinary on a day shared with friends.
In the way of certain miracles, this coming to the inner moment of depth and calm sometimes happens alone but sometimes in a relationship with another in which you are fully seen and accepted and which you are gifted with eyes to see and accept. When I saw that whale, so many years ago, and even though I have seen many in my life at different times, when I saw that particular whale, on a day in a little boat out on the vast ocean, it felt like a miracle to me. And part of that glorious day was seeing it with my friends. Ever since, I have sometimes wondered, for we walking the journey of faith, if our lives could find that great inner stillness and calm of the whale print, even in the midst of the seas of life; could we be like a miracle for others at times? Could we become like the whale print or match such a miraculous thing? You know one time Jesus said to his followers: “you will do even greater works than I have done” (cf: John 14:12), making the claim that it is for us to convey the love and hope and forgiveness and justice of God. And when you think about it, I would imagine that each of us could recall people who were that for us; people who were miracles for us; people whose lives were like a still whale print in the midst of the sea.
Whether we find the still point in a moment of intimate aloneness or in the company of another, may we take the knowledge of it with us into a world so needy to know wholeness, connection and love.