This Vast Similitude

I have been in San Diego all week, and at the top of my lists of sights has been watching the sun set over the ocean. In fact, I have been pretty enchanted and entranced by the ocean all week–and I say this as a staunch mountain girl: make no mistake, I would choose the mountains over the sea 100 times out of 100.

Nevertheless, there is something compelling and magical about the ocean–its timelessness, its vastness, its soothing rhythm. And, at least for me, there is something divine in all that, too: the rolling waves are a tangible sign of the movement of time and the rotation of bodies in orbit; and in this way, they are a concrete reminder of God’s hand undergirding all life at every moment, supporting the universe in all its parts, enlivening it with the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit. You can almost feel that breath washing over you as the tide rolls in and then rolls back out.

What can I say–sometimes God’s presence, deeply embedded everywhere in creation, breaks out right in front of you; and all you can do is watch in wonder, and say thank you.

Standing on the beach tonight I was reminded of a poem–“On the Beach at Night Alone,” by Walt Whitman. It is one of the poems I know by heart, so in the tradition of both Augustine and Luther, whose memories were not always accurate when quoting Scripture from memory, I’ll cite this one from memory, too, with the warning that it may not be perfect, either.

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky song,
as I watch the bright stars shining,
I think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all:
all spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets;
all distances of place however wide;
all distances of time, all inanimate forms;
all souls, all living bodies, though they be ever so different or in different worlds;
all gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes;
all nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages;
all identities that have existed or will exist, on this globe or any globe;
all lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future;
this vast similitude spans them, and has spanned, and will forever span them, and compactly hold and enclose them.

It’s not quite Tillich’s “Ground of Being,” but I like the metaphor of God as “this vast similitude” almost as much.

One thought on “This Vast Similitude

  1. I miss the ocean since I moved “inland” in May. But I hope to go back this fall even if just for a few weeks, and commute from there to church (work).You captured it well – you and Walt Whitman. The sea is vast and mesmerizing and full of the rhythms of life. Very spiritual. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s