Ever since I can remember, I have longed for the ocean. Not a good swimmer, and not one to eat the myriad creatures that fill its immense waters, I find myself nonetheless drawn to its endless pounding surf and salt spray. Even before I’d read Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, discovered the eternal fascination of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or had even heard of H. P. Lovecraft, I knew that I belonged to the ocean. It need not compete for my affection. It had already won. With family visiting this weekend and with an unseasonably warm March weather-system, we went down to the Jersey Shore yesterday to visit my old friend. Sandy Hook is a peninsula that juts up from New Jersey toward New York City, a sandbar of undeveloped free ocean access administered by the National Park Service. During the summer it can be intensely lined with fishermen and sun-worshipers, but in March it was a reasonable place to be. Sea creatures are abundant when left alone, and we saw our first harbor seal of the season, along with a galaxy of sea stars. These echinoderms had eluded me thus far; we’ve been to the shore several times during our Jersey days and had never discovered any. One large sea star had been stranded in an evaporated tide pool. Compassion overcame me and I carried it down to the surf to offer it a chance for continued survival.
Recently I reread Jonathan Edwards’ horrific yet classic sermonic masterpiece, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Vividly depicting a furious deity barely capable of restraining his repressed wrath directed toward wicked human beings, but for an uncommon dose of misplaced compassion, Edwards suggests we all deserve ghastly destruction. Edwards underscores one of my recurrent observations about religion – it is a means of control. The great Puritan divinity only accepts penitent Puritans, all others go directly to Hell, not passing Go, not collecting their two-hundred dollars.
As I held that helpless sea star, destined for the cruel, drying rays of an unclouded sun, I did not think of its multiple transgressions. Murderous predators, sea stars consume other sea creatures, including their own kind, in the constant struggle for survival. This one had obviously had a successful run and had grown to an impressive size. I felt no rage, no desire to destroy this killer. Instead, I saw a radiant example of a being evolved to live in an environment that I can not even comprehend, just doing what it needs to get along in its undersea world. And I recognized the wrath of God for what it really is – one man’s unfulfilled plan to decide the destiny of his fellow creatures.