How To Swim in Symbolic Waters

In ancient times, the sea was the home of Chaos.

I could write that the sea symbolized chaos, but that word symbol is too easily brushed aside. As if symbols are merely tame bits of literary frippery with no power to unleash the deepest truths of our lives. Like opening the floodgates.

To the sea.

For these ancients, the sea was unfathomable. The sea bedded monsters. The sea could surge forth, at any time, and swallow up land, homes, lives.

Death, darkness, oblivion, terror. This was the sea.




And if you love beach vacations and find it hard to understand how the play of light on dancing waves could ever have been a harbinger of doom, then you will read the twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation with surprise. And disappointment.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)

But if you are like me, you will sigh with longing.

If you are like me, the mere act of sifting through an overfull kitchen drawer for a thermometer hiding somewhere in its depths while the milk you had intended to turn into yogurt boils away on the stove is all it takes for Chaos to begin seeping in.

A moment later and the failed yogurt, the waste of good milk, the scorched pot and the murky kitchen drawer have caught you in their surge. One glance around and you are lost in an ocean of legos and marbles and bits of paper from the morning’s craft and a sticky puddle you cannot explain.

Now you are drowning because it is so humid and your kitchen is a furnace and the baby, the beautiful curly-haired baby, abandoned the slip’n slide after five minutes and is now tracking wet grass and clumps of mud from kitchen to dining room to entryway rug.

One day there will be no sea.




Yes, the sea is a symbol and my kitchen drawer is a symbol and whoever told you a symbol isn’t real? Whoever said it was not possible to drown in symbolic waters?

But if it is possible to drown, it must also be possible to swim. It must also be possible to open your eyes and observe the play of light on dancing waves.

To stand before the unknown and the unmanageable and discover, not the hiding place of terror, but the birthplace of beauty.





Because the Ordinary is a Gift

four and dad


I began to love stories when I was tiny (my father told a serial tale about a little girl and her many exotic pets). That love has only grown.  It makes perfect sense to me that I would want to measure my days with the Story.  Walking through a year with the liturgical calendar is, essentially, living the story of my faith from its beginning to its triumphant end.

Epiphany has past, and we are headed into the season of Ordinary Time.  As has happened to me before (and likely always will, for this seems to me the point of living the story), my own spiritual life is mirroring the spiritual life of the larger church, at least as it is expressed in the calendar.

To put it plainly: my days are ordinary.

Ordinary Time seems somehow outside of story.  There is no drama, no central narrative.  It isn’t Advent, Lent, or Easter.  The meaningful intensity of those periods is lacking.  Though time passes, it doesn’t feel as if we are on any kind of journey.  The days simply are.

I find it easy to wish these days away.  I like the excitement of storytelling.  I like to know that I am quickly moving from point A to point B, from introduction to conclusion.  I like that in books, I like that in church.  I like that in life.

I suppose I could make an argument that we are never, truly, outside of the story.  We never actually pause in our journeys, as humans, as communities.  However, it doesn’t feel right to me to push these days into the narrative mold.  It’s dishonest, I think, to dress these days up as more meaningful and significant than they are.

Perhaps they aren’t significant in terms of the story.  But could it be this lack of significance that makes them so amazing?

They are gloriously excessive.  They are like the galaxies, the uncounted stars and planets that have been created yet remain unseen by our eyes.  What are they forWhy did God make them, anyway?  For the joy of it?

These ordinary days don’t matter all that much, but they’ve been given to us.  God gives the extraordinary – the birthdays, the graduation days, the holidays, the days spent on the mountaintop, and the days endured deep in a valley.  As if these weren’t enough, God gives us more.  He gives us the ordinary.

The blue-sky day in a month of blue skies.  The hand-holding day in a decade of holding that child’s hand.  The sunrise and the sunset, always and again.  My husband in the kitchen making breakfast for all of us, not because it’s Mother’s Day, but because it’s morning.


revised and reposted from the archives


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