Since our vacation was in the former (so-called) “Whaling Capital of the Pacific,” Lahaina, Maui, I – of course- had to use some this time to dive back into a favorite novel, Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Let me share a line (bad pun). Ishmael, narrator and main character, is asked by the ship’s owner why it is that he wants to spend several years on a whaling ship. He answers: “I want to see the world.”
Most of us have said as much, especially around the age of 19. But would you say it in a job interview to work on an oil rig for Exxon? It was whaling ships like this that provided the (whale) oil that lit the lamps in 19th c. America. Why hire someone out to “see” the world and its whales when your mission is to cut open, extract, sell and profit?
Well, as it turns out, the captain, Ahab, doesn’t care much about profit, either. He’s out to get revenge on the whale that bit off his leg in the last voyage. It’s absurd. But when something terrible happens (thinking of Boston, even) don’t we feel the need to DO something about it? Strike out? At whom? What? At the very least, get armed and install more cameras! Ahab doesn’t care to “see the world,” he wants to see through to what’s really going on. He suspects malice all around, underneath the surface. “All visible objects,” he says, “are but pasteboard (cardboard) masks … How can a prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?”
On May 19th we celebrate Pentecost: that God gives us voices and ears for praise in many languages. Who’s to say even the language of borderline atheistic novels like Moby Dick can’t speak to us on a spiritual level?* When we open the paper each day, do we expect to see malice or redemption? Another disaster, or something amazing? The Pentecost vision is of a world that’s not a prison, but the good creation. Evil persists, but praise can be heard ringing out from every corner. God doesn’t remain hidden beneath the surface pulling strings, but takes on flesh, endures our world, lives and dies right out in the open among us.
We also want to see the world – because Jesus is there! One more line: Ishmael confides to the reader that he has an “everlasting itch for things remote.” I like how that sentence starts with a spiritual word (everlasting) and then surprises us with physical words (itch, things). We come together for worship itching for things: water, bread and wine – one another present, the good gifts of our world, the risen body of our brother and Lord. “Things remote:” I think of how many of you like to travel even further than Hawaii, for vacation, but also perspective. To be remote can just mean being removed from what’s familiar, opening our eyes to what’s around us, expecting to be surprised, grateful for the amazing world we get to be a part of. These days, I think that’s a very hopeful attitude!
*Lutherans can handle their pastors discussing atheistic books; Melville fans may think it blasphemy against Moby Dick to bring it up in a church newsletter!