Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tides

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Afternoon Session of the October 1976 Conference.
Last week we were on vacation in Oregon, staying at a house by a bay. Every few hours the tide would come in or go out, and because of our position near the bay, the tidal changes were more dramatic than I've ever seen before. There was a peninsula that formed one side of the bay, and a low sandbar out near the bay's mouth. At low tide, the water would retreat on all sides, making the beach seem all sand and stretches of black rocks and tide pools, and the sandbar would become so far exposed that you could nearly walk across it to the peninsula. That stretch of sand blocked the ocean waves—not the water, but much of the motion of the water—from coming in to the bay at all. There would be gentle shifting ripples at the shore, but not those endless breaking white-topped waves.
At high tide, though, the sandbar disappeared and the waves swept in. The shoreline nearly disappeared and the water seemed to reach right up to the trees and cliffs. You could hear the difference even when the night was too dark to see the bay: that rhythm of crashing waves against the closer shores meant high tide had come back.

The tides are such a strange combination of finite and infinite: each tide in itself is temporary and measured and you can so easily see to its approaching end—but the overall cycle is SO vast it's almost beyond comprehension. The tides never stop coming! Then there's the variation even within what appears so regular: the extra-low tides, the higher high tides, the storm surges or winds that create irregularity in the system.

I watched this continual shift from high to low tide with fascination all week, trying to decide what it reminded me of. On the one hand, I looked forward to the high tide. It was so dynamic and beautiful and interesting. Like that quote from Julius Caesar—"There is a tide in the affairs of men/ which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune./ Omitted, all the voyage of their life/ is bound in shallows and in miseries."—where the high tide is seen as opportunity, power, and the chance for growth, and the low tide is stagnation.

On the other hand, the low tide's calm waters and its moderating, protective sandbar seemed like THEY must be the positive symbols, providing shelter and safety and a respite from the constant battering of the waves. This is the way of seeing that gives us phrases like "safe harbor" and those lines I love from Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me: "As a mother stills her child, /Thou canst hush the ocean wild."

Anyway, it did make me think a lot about water and cycles and all the different things they can show us. And then I read Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin's talk, "Dikes versus Living Water," which was also about different sorts of water! His multiple water metaphors had me a bit confused at times, which is understandable…see above!—but his main point seemed to be that, while the forces of nature (floods, storms, tides, broken dikes) cause danger and can overwhelm us, the "living water" of the scriptures acts as a counteracting force that renews and stabilizes us.

He tells a story about a paraplegic man who attempted to swim the English channel, but ultimately had to give up from exhaustion:
"'…It was the last few miles that completely drained me. The tides defeated me!' the swimmer exclaimed. His strength ebbed away as he tried to cope with the formidable obstacles in his path.
Elder Wirthlin continues:
Life was made for struggle; and exaltation, success, and victory were never meant to be cheap or to come easily. The tides of life often challenge us. … 
Now let me make a suggestion that will enable us to maintain our spiritual strength and keep our testimonies vitally alive so that the trials, the storms, and the tides of life will not defeat us. This suggestion is that, above all, we should heed the words of Jesus to the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria when he said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14.) 
How could one’s strength ebb or falter when it may be so dependably and continuously nourished and restored?
Whether or not the coming of the high tide is a dangerous thing or an enabling thing or some combination of both—one thing I got from this talk is the seemingly-obvious truth that life ebbs and flows. There are times of calm, times of change, times that SEEM calm but are actually full of change underneath—but no matter whether one looks forward to the opportunities of the high tide or enjoys the tranquility of the low tide, we all need constant, individual, spiritual renewal to cope with the various demands of these cycles.

And that made me think about how God's love and dependability are constant, but they are constant like a spring or a flowing river—or like a tide cycle: constant in that they keep coming and keep giving us what we need, as we need it. Not constant in that they allow us to remain where and who we are! In fact, they almost force us to change and to confront change. And the words of the scriptures and the prophets work the same way. They are dynamic. Their meanings, to us, transform over time. We learn new things as we need them. The living waters roll forward, constantly renewed—and constantly renewing. But they are always, dependably, PRESENT, if we choose to drink from them.

Other posts in this series:

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