Catching God's Wave
God is the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow regardless of shifts in humanity, but I believe he communicates with each individual in a unique way. One of the greatest ways I’ve experienced the presence of God within every aspect of life (i.e. physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc.) is through nature — more specifically, through surfing.
Life is like a wave. It can be difficult and it can be easy, it can be smooth or it can be rough, either you ride it or you don’t…but you can’t force the wave or shape it. You can only tap into the energy behind it, find your path through the watery peaks and valleys, and ride the wave to the best of your ability — surviving or thriving — till you arrive at the shore. You can pick which wave you take, but you can’t ever fully determine its nature. By the time you get an idea of what the wave is going to do, you have to just go with what you’ve got and trust that you’ll be able to see it through to the end.
While growing up in Hawaii on the island of Oahu I developed a deep connection with the ocean. I knew when I was preparing to leave home I needed to be close to the ocean, so when the opportunity came up to go to Pepperdine University in the iconic Malibu, California, I immediately took it.
The first thing that struck me when I arrived on the Golden Coast was how different that side of the Pacific Ocean was from the side I had just come from. Somehow, during the five-and-a-half hour flight and over 2,500 miles, the ocean I thought I knew became much colder and drastically unfamiliar. It was still the same ocean and still incredibly beautiful. There were still the peaks and troughs of waves and people riding down their faces. But this ocean had a different kind of beauty than I was used to and did not behave the same way I had grown to expect it to behave. The bone-chilling temperatures, vast underwater forests of kelp and vaguely similar sea creatures made me feel as though I had fallen down a crab hole — not too different from Alice’s rabbit hole — and ended up in an alternate reality.
Thinking back on those first few months away from home, I realize that those first impressions of the Californian ocean were parallel to the experience I was going through in my relationship with God.
My understanding of God up to that point had been like my childhood understanding of the Hawaiian side of the Pacific Ocean. The comfortable, safe and friendly ocean that I had played in throughout all of my youth reflected the characteristics of God that I had grown up solely aware of. As wonderful as that was, however, that was only a small piece of the indescribable nature of God.
Leaving home to go to Pepperdine made me realize that there was a lot more about God (and about the ocean) than I could fathom…pun intended. I began to experience both in a completely different context than I was used to. This increased my understanding of, admiration for and ability to find joy in each.
In fact, I have found surfing along with any time spent in the ocean to be completely inseparable from my relationship with God.
The waves that wash over me speak to me of the grace of God that constantly covers me. The currents that push and pull me remind me of the Holy Spirit in how he patiently tugs at my heart until I fall into the movement of his swell. The calm, quiet that I find beneath the tumbling breakers reflects the peace I have found in my salvation through Jesus Christ in the midst of the rough seas of life.
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 42:7-8 “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”
When I hear that verse I think of something I learned while quenching my deep thirst for knowledge about the ocean a few years ago. There is a scientific condition known as the “mammalian diving reflex.” When a warm-blooded creature submerges in water and its airways are closed off, this reflex causes it to undergo certain changes in its cardiovascular system so it can capitalize on the oxygen stored in its body. Not only does this reflex allow a mammal to stay underwater longer but by slowing the heart rate and causing blood to be concentrated closer to the body’s core it also produces a quality of tranquility. This is what happens to me every time I dive with my surfboard under an oncoming wave or get held beneath the surface by an unexpected set.
My continual submersion into the presence of God is what allows me to exist in this world more positively than I ever could on my own attributes. This leads me to wonder that maybe there is some sort of “Holy Spirit diving reflex.” I have witnessed the power of God’s Spirit in my own life and in the lives of others and what the Spirit of God does to those who let him wash over their lives is much more than the peace that the ocean gives…and it is also freedom: Freedom to live and love and seek and find and give and receive without the pressures of the world having any real detraction from life.
One of the greatest representations that I’ve found of the connection between the ocean, surfing and God is a weekly surf chapel (also known as surf convocation) at Pepperdine called “Walking on Water.” This weekly gathering creates an open, joyful community for students (and even residents of Malibu) from all walks of life who are being drawn to the ocean or to God, and often to both simultaneously. It is a place where those seeking the joys of the ocean find the true joy found in God, and where those seeking God find him in the deep swells of his creation.
The ocean is not a living entity, but through the unique energy that it possesses, it conveys joy and life to a lot of living beings. How much more, then, would the Creator of the ocean bestow joy and life and peace and energy to the rest of His creation?