Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. –Jesus. (Gospel of Matthew c11, v28-29. The Message.)
From somewhere in the Caribbean…
I was forty feet underwater. In front of me was a large rock, perhaps 20 feet across. It was coral encrusted and the fish were swarming.
I like scuba diving. I find it peaceful; there is something about the rhythmic flow of air from the tank through the regulator into my lungs, then from my lungs through the regulator and into the water, bubbling up past my ears, that I find soothing. The rush of air in, bubbles out. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. A beautiful rhythm.
Too, it is so restful to be in a state that feels gravity free. Divers call it “neutral buoyancy”–weighted just so that the diver, when motionless, neither floats up nor sinks down, but stays at the depth he or she is. It must be like the weightlessness the astronauts experience (they do, in fact, train for space by being underwater in very large pools). You move along by kicking your fin-encased feet and when you stop kicking you drift to a stop and find yourself simply suspended in the water; floating underwater, if I can use that term, as one might float in space. Remarkable. I’ve often wondered whether that sense of serenity while floating motionless submerged in water taps into some long ago memory of floating in the womb.
Rhythmically breathing in and out, floating weightless, the remarkable sense of quiet amidst the comforting sounds of the compressed air, and the beauty of fish and coral and sea floor…that, for me, is the majesty of scuba diving.
So, why then, if all is supposed to be tranquil, am I frustrated and fighting so hard as I float nearly upright along a vertical face of this rock?
Earlier in the dive, while swimming along a sandy bottom, I had discovered the forty feet of water above me did not dampen out the effects of the three to four foot surface swells. Swimming perpendicular to the swells resulted in my being pushed three feet to the right, then three feet to the left. Right. Left. Right. Left. It was lulling, sideways rhythm of a rocking motion as I progress across the bottom.
What was even more fun was swimming parallel to the surface swells. If I did not kick at all I discovered I would move back three feet, then forward three feet. If I kicked while the sea motion tried to move me back, I could hold my place and then I would be propelled forward much faster than normal when the motion of the water changed direction. So, swimming in the direction of the swells became a rhythm of resisting the motion by kicking to stay in place, then resting as the current moved me forward. Kick. Rest. Kick. Rest. Another delightful rhythm.
Now, something, I no longer remember what, had caught my attention on the face of this rock and I wanted to float peacefully and examine this thing. What had been another enjoyable rhythm of diving–swimming with motion of the swell–had now become a great annoyance as it kept me from doing what I wanted in the way I wanted to do it. I was thrashing about trying to maintain my depth and keep from being pushed into the rock by the now irritating to and fro of the ocean. My arms and legs flailed. My breathing quickened and was erratic at my exertion. Finally, I gave up and moved away from the rock face.
That’s when I noticed the fish below me. Beautifully colored angelfish, parrotfish, trigger fish, and others moved easily around the coral darting in to nibble on a tasty piece of coral, playing tag and follow the leader while swooping in and out of narrow passages, or just resting as the motion of the water rocked them back and forth. Motion or not, those fish were at home in their element. It is what they knew, all they had even known. They didn’t fight the water; rather, they had learned to move along their desired way within the larger context of the rhythm of the water.
At that moment I realized just how much it was I who was the “fish out of water.” To these small fish, the motion of the water was something they had experienced all of their lives. They knew no different. I, on the other hand, having grown up surrounded by air that rarely moves with the force to knock me off my course and with my feet firmly planted on the ground to give me great leverage to move, thrashed about in this alien environment unable to cope with this gentle motion of the water. I didn’t embrace the rhythm of the water, moving with it that I might see what the rock had presented to me. No, I had fought it trying to force the ocean to submit to my will and missed what the rock had for me to see.
I’m often a fish out of water in the spiritual realm, too. Like the verse at the top says, there is a rhythm of life with Jesus. We are invited into it. Too often I find myself as unfamiliar with the spiritual world as I am with the undersea world. I try to bend Jesus’ rhythm to my will and, just like my ocean experience, I end up thrashing about unable to enjoy Jesus’ natural tranquility in the moment. I think the Apostle Paul had begun to learn the secret of living in the rhythm of Jesus when he said:
Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, c4, v11-13. The Message.)
I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
If we get so close to Jesus that we become relationally one with Him, as He has invited us to be, then we will move with His rhythm and the turbulence around us will be unnoticed, just as it was for those fish. Like Paul, we will be content in all situations because we are moving with the rhythm of Jesus–contentment will be natural for us.
The spiritual realm of Father God, Son Jesus, and the Spirit, which bursts forth from Their relationship, is actually our natural home, it is when we fix our eyes on this world or try to impose our will on the rhythm of Jesus that we thrash about and lose what He offers in the moment.
Draw closer to Jesus, respond to His invitation to move as He moves. That is the first thing. Join Him in His rhythm and find in the depths of your soul His peace in the midst of the turbulence and currents of life. Let His Spirit teach you: pay attention to your life and when you notice yourself thrashing about, struggling to maintain your depth, your breathing has become erratic and the tranquility is gone, you are fighting the rhythm of Jesus rather than moving with it. Stop. Let your heart, mind, and soul reengage with Jesus to feel His rhythm. Everything else, the second things, flow out of the rhythm of relationship with Jesus.