Going Deep!

28 Feb
Luke
11:30”For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the
Son of Man will be to this generation.”
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On
Sunday evening, after attending the funeral service for Bishop Barbara Darling,
I grabbed a coffee and plonked myself in front of the telly, not particular as
to what I watched. As it turned out, I was mesmerised by the program that was
on.
It
was the story of James Cameron, the Hollywood movie director who directed Titanic,
Abyss and Avatar
 and his participation in the Rolex Deep Sea
Challenge. The challenge was to go where no one else had been in a submarine,
to the bottom of the ocean, some 36,000 feet.
More
than 50 years ago, two men climbed into a massive, blimp-like submersible,
descended about 35,800 feet (10,912 meters) to the deepest point in the ocean,
and became the first people to observe the dark underworld of one of Earth’s
most extreme environments. No one had been back since, until March 26, 2012,
when Cameron made a record-breaking solo dive to the Challenger Deep in the
Mariana Trench in a custom-built submersible that he co-designed. Cameron
reached 35, 756 feet.
While
the story itself was intriguing, I was challenged by some of the comments
Cameron made on his return. He was somewhat surprised there were no monsters
down at the bottom of the sea. In fact the deeper you went, he said, the less
life was evident and the ocean floor resembled a moonscape – bare and
uninhabited.
He
also commented that ‘the feeling of venturing into the trench was
“peaceful, lonely, getting further away from the world you came from”. “There’s
a purity,” he said. “A sense of the sacred, and a vastness of all we don’t know
is felt. You feel like you dove deeper than the limits of life itself.”
In
this modern world of instant gratification and entitlement we fear the unknown,
seeing monsters lurking just below the surface we prefer to stay on top, becoming
surface dwellers who resist the challenge to go deep. The period of Lent,
like Advent, challenges us to let go of what is familiar and safe, and take the
journey to the bottom of the abyss within, to that place where the limits of
our ordinary life disappear and we get a sense of the sacred and the vastness
of the unknown. 
Now,
we would do Cameron an injustice if we said he was referring to God and the
world of religion. He is firmly a scientist and a researcher, but his journey
and his story could be a modern day version of the Jonah story. Jonah found
himself, for very different reasons than Cameron, taking a journey into the
deep, and while he was there, discovering the sacredness of life and the
challenge to take that message to the neighbouring town of Nineveh.
Jonah’s
journey ‘into the belly of a whale’ (a metaphor for being in a dark place) took
3 days (a short’ish period). He was lost at sea, gone missing, his life was in
great turmoil due to his own stubbornness and hard held views. Yet, deep in the
darkness of a world that was unlike anything he had seen, he realised the
monsters were not in the sea, but in him, deep with in him and he had to make
friends with them in order to begin a new life. After 3 days (a short’ ish
period) he reappeared and set about such a life, not without blemish it must be
said, but a life with a new awareness of the sacred.
The
Gospel reading has Jesus appropriating the story of Jonah as an archetype for
what was to become his story – the journey into the deep, Sheol, and the
resurrection on the third day, bringing the possibility of new life for all who
believe in him. 
30”For
just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be
to this generation.” Interestingly, Jonah’s message was one of damnation and
destruction, and he was disappointed when God was compassionate and recognised
the change in the people of Nineveh. Jesus reiterates that powerful message of
condemnation but balances it with the compassion of God to be exemplified by
his crucifixion and the journey into the deep where the monster of death is
defeated, returning on the third day with the promise of new life for all. 
The
Bible has many stories like Jonah’s, stories where people are placed in dark
places and have to journey deep within themselves to resurrect their life and
the lives of those they are responsible for. Joseph in the well, Moses and the
burning bush, Jacob and the almost death of Isaac and more. People
discover “A sense of the sacred, and the vastness of all we don’t know
when they have ventured or been forced to dive deeper than limits of life
itself.” This can happen through tragedy or misfortune or it can occur when we
decide to leave the safe and familiar surface of life and dive deeper within
ourselves, letting go and settling comfortably with God at the centre of our
being.
Over
the last few years I have had the privilege of taking teenagers (14 – 17) on 3
day silent retreats, without the distractions of computers, Ipods, Ipads and
other electronic gadgetry. It was for most of them, the longest time that they
had spent alone with themselves and their thoughts. It was interesting to
watch. The first day was a challenge but had a sense of excitement about it as
they tried to find ways to deal with silence and stillness (washing their
clothes 5 times, as one did). The second day was always the toughest. Here they
discovered unresolved thoughts and experiences surfacing and challenging them,
often disturbingly so. The advice was to simply sit with this moment as they
travelled further into the silence. If they stayed with it and rode out the
monsters they would, and did, discover the sacred resurrection of themselves,
renewed and re-energised, on the third day. Like Jonah and Jesus they returned
to their ordinary world with a new life empowered by going deep.
 In
Cameron’s journey, the going down and the coming up occurred with out power.
The vessel simply sank to the bottom after the balloons holding it on the
surface were jettisoned, before ballast was released and the vessel floated
back to the surface. It was never meant to stay on the bottom. Very Jonah’arian
in manner. On the bottom it settled and moved gently around, allowing Cameron
to explore the previously unseen landscape with wonder and amazement. 
In
this Lenten period, let us take the time (3 days – a short’ish period) to begin
the journey to the deep within, letting go of those ordinary things that hold
us to the surface, the balloons on Cameron’s submarine, and discovering a new
life empowered by the resurrected Christ, whose journey to the deep makes such
a life possible.

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