“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your cataracts…” —Psalm 42: 7
God loves the deep.
God loves abysses, caverns, valleys that lie between heights, bedrock at the bottom of the sea, profundity, and graves. If it’s deep, if it has fathoms and fathoms, if you have to go down, in, or beneath to get there, that’s where God goes. Where God is. God loves the deep.
Now, we often speak about God differently: God, we sing in our hymns, is enthroned on high, above the skies. God thunders from the mountaintop. God goes up to shouts of joy. We raise our eyes to the heavens. We lift our hearts to God. God is over and above and higher, higher than our thoughts. God is up—a ‘higher power.’
But if you go by some of the great stories of the Bible, it’s not up God loves so much as down. God is a ‘deeper power.’ God’s preferred trajectory is downward, into the depths of creation, into the depths of our lives, into the depths of love, loss, ecstasy, sin and perversity and pain; into the depths of our prayer where our sighs replace our words. Downward God goes, into the deepest thing of all, our human deaths. If something is deep, if it has depth, God will go there.
Moses discovered this when he came to the Red Sea with the Hebrew children in tow and Pharaoh’s army at his back. There God’s love plunged deep into the sea and parted it. Water high on the left and right, and in the middle, in the deep, bedrock. And the Hebrew children got down to the bottom of things. They went deep and were free. God loves the depths. If it’s deep, if you go deep, to the bottom of things, you find God there. And freedom.
Jonah discovered this when he boarded a ship to anywhere but where God wanted him to go. In a raging storm, the sailors threw him overboard, and he began to sink to the bottom. A big fish swam up out of those depths and swallowed him. In the belly of the fish Jonah swore to God he’d be a good boy and a docile prophet if God would get him out of there. It was a prayer so oily and self-serving that it made the fish throw up, spewing Jonah onto the shore, saving his life and giving him another chance to do what God wanted. God loves the deep. God works in the deep. God changes things down there.
Ezekiel learned this when God took him on a guided tour of a grisly sunken place of bones. Bone by bone, God rubbed his nose in the charnel, as if God wanted Ezekiel to certify that they were in fact ‘very dry,’ as the story says, which is another way of saying ‘very dead.’ They were. Like the corpses bulldozed into open pits at Treblinka, or the skulls of neighbors lined up on the pews of village churches in Rwanda, those bleached carcasses stood for a people, “the whole House of Israel.” The valley held a fate worse than death—genocide, the prospect of a future erased, no one left to remember and tell. And in those depths of horror and despair, God told Ezekiel to prophesy life. You know what happens next: ‘the knee-bone connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone connected to the hip bone…” The people live. Out of the depths.
Jesus knew it by heart, this word about God and the depths. He went deep himself when he put aside the glory that was his and lowered himself into a fully human life in his mother’s womb. It was in a lowly trough where she first laid him to sleep one silent night. And it was in an airless cave cut deep into rock that he was laid to sleep again when he died, wounded with the wounds we gave him. Out of the deep God raised him to indestructible life. Easter, never forget, took place in a grave. God loves the deep.
And remember the way he wept and groaned out of his deep love for Lazarus? It’s a mysterious story, Lazarus’ rising. Like all stories about love and pain, loss and confusion, faith and hope, it’s deep, and we can’t fully fathom it. All we read is this—Lazarus was dead, decaying for days, but at Jesus’ command, he came out. Out of the depths he came back to life.
If you didn’t know this deep God already, wouldn’t you love this God? A God who is not a highness, but a lowness? If you loved this deep God deeply, you wouldn’t be content to live well, with panache and brio, high spirits, high ambitions, high expectations and high hopes; you’d find yourself instead longing to live in a lowly way, profoundly, with depth, humility, and outstretched hands. If you loved this deep God deeply, your trajectory would start to mirror the divine course: you’d tend to the subterranean, track downwards, into, and beneath. All the way down into the fissures love has not yet bridged you’d go, into the lesions love has not yet healed, into your own and others’ pain, into the guilt and haplessness, the fear and falsity, the secret shame, the bottom-feeding greed and self-protection. Down there, on bedrock, you’d know again on whose unfathomable mercy you utterly depend, as life and freedom beckons, and deep calls longingly to deep.
Chapter 1 Verse 1: Creation; Chapter 1 Verse 2: the deep. Where the Spirit breathes and dwells and hovers in the process as all is birthed – direct from square one: the deep, the abyss, the depths, the formless void, the chaos – it’s primal! (It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God). Who doesn’t know this human-divine encounter experience first hand: We live in that same primal ooze – the experience of Moses, Jonah, Ezekiel, Jesus, with these stories as pastoral care wisdoms to guide us through what often starts out as distress. Thank you for going here! Fantastic. .. Since it is dark in these profundities – not too far away from the surface before the depths get pitch black – might it be useful to add Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob’s struggle at the Jabbok with the stranger … in the depths of the darkness – a pivotal transformation process that calls out for a higher profile in the common canon-within-the-canon of familiar bible stories? And another – the rarely quoted jewel of “hold onto the rails” pastoral perspective that is strangely counter-intuitive until one knows the wise counsel of your blog entry: Isaiah 45:3 – “I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places.” The entire creation has this process built into it – just look up at the stars, now knowing they are born in chaos – and yet their stardust is in our bones – and be guided toward the light! 😉 Your ministry of interpretation is a wonder and a reveal, J. Mary Luti! “a billion times told lovelier, more dangerous… and gash gold-vermillion.” Register my vote for the Luti Literacy Project!
Brian, I so appreciate your suggested additions to the catalogue of ‘the depths’– and I plan to find a way to use every one! Thank you so much for sharing your own wisdom and interpretation, and for taking the time to write!
Mary, This reflection is not at all what I expected but, it is perfectly true. Thank you.
Ha! Curious to know what you expected!
Lovely lovely lovely! I’ve long felt that church sanctuaries should include a kiva, for just the sort of purposes you indicate: descending into the dark and silent profundities of the places where God acts, unknown. It could be integrated into a communion liturgy, the congregants coming forward to receive by intinction – first the bread, then the going-down, coming up at last to receive the cup – all to engage the brokenness of the body and the light released. At First Church Cambridge, this would be located near to the apse, that glorious gold half-dome and the suspended cross: a harmony of disparate elements. In other places, proximity to the cross would be appropriate – and if all they’ve got is one of those miniature brass thingies, it’s a great opportunity to trade up for something more significant. Architect, congregation, contractor – let the work begin!
Brilliant, Carter! The congregation could also go down there for the imposition of ashes, for baptisms, for healing services… All kinds of possibilities … now go raise the $$. (That’s deep!) Holy Lent to you.