The famous Joshua Slocum—1844-circa 1909 (lost at sea)—sailed around the world alone in his sloop, “The Spray.” Then he wrote a book about it called, Sailing Alone Around the World. It tells of his adventures in the course of this trip: running from pirates in the Red Sea, running from natives off of Chile, running from great squalls, running from a great whale that unknowingly presented a great risk to his little ship, and singing his lonesome away on the open sea.
Had I read this book before I traveled to Crete, I would have thought of Captain Slocum on the twenty-second of March, 2010 on which my friend and I took a hike to the Mediterranean Sea. The trek began at Gouverneto Monastery, situated on the heights, and surrounded by rocky hills. Our path lead us down and down to another, more ancient and disused structure called Katholiko Monastery. During the descent, the sea came into view between the massive and stone-covered hills of the island. It was so blue, and sparkly as it moved with the wind and broke white along the shore. The second monastery, Katholiko, lay over a great gorge, which, if followed, leads straight to the great Mediterranean. It is said that the ancient structure was abandoned because of multiple pirate attacks. They landed their black ships—with their black sails—and ascended the gorge to attack and loot the great stone structure. The monks must have been unable or unwilling to defend themselves, for the pirates prevailed, and the monastery was moved to its current location on the heights. The older structure stands in ruins, but its magnitude and beauty are still visible. Green grass and white flowers grow on top of the buildings’ shells, and on the giant bridge over the gorge. It is all grand and beautiful as it slowly assimilates to its natural surroundings. I thought—as I stood there—that this would be a perfect place to read the Psalms: the ancient and poetic testaments to God’s glory and power. The caves peppering the hillside above reminded me of David’s caves of refuge from Saul, and the sound of goat bells softly ringing through the hills made me think of his time as a shepherd. I can imagine David sitting upon the great bridge, listening to these sounds and writing,
You make springs gush forth in the valleys . . .
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
And plants for man to cultivate . . .
The high mountains are for the wild goats
After a time at the old monastery, we plunged into the gorge and walked where pirates had trod so many years ago, to the sea. And while King David did write about being a shepherd and the beauty of the land around him, he--or another psalmist--also wrote this:
“The seas have lifted up, LORD,
The seas have lifted up their voice;
The seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
Mightier than the breakers of the sea—
The LORD on high is mighty.
As we neared the water we could hear the surf crashing on the volcanic rock of the island. If I had read Captain Slocum’s book before making this hike, I would have known that we were on the windward side of the island. The waves hit the rocks and white foam sprayed up in our faces as we stood gazing out on the blue, blue Mediterranean. “The seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.” And indeed they did! It was hypnotizing and wonderful. I sat down as near to the water as I could without the salty spray soaking me and was quiet. My friend did the same. We sat there feeling overwhelmed with the splendor of God’s creation, and with the deep and dangerous power of His sea. Though we were quiet, the sea continued its worshipful roar. Over and over again, the waves charged the rocks and broke on them, telling us over and over again how mighty our creator is, “mightier than the breakers of the sea!”
The sun was on its way down, so we made the hike back to Gouverneto Monastery, through the gorge, past the ancient monks’ home, and up through the cave-speckled hills. That time of sitting on the windward shore of Crete, and witnessing the sea’s power brings me back to old Captain Slocum. Though the human eye would only see a man and his boat on the open waves, he understood what his true situation was, for in writing about sailing one summer day following a great storm he says, “All the world was again before me. The wind was even literally fair . . . Then was the time to uncover my head, for I sailed alone with God. The vast ocean was again around me, and the horizon was unbroken by land.” Captain Slocum did not sail alone around the world, but “alone with God,” the one “mightier than the breakers of the sea.” The storm in the night had brought Captain Slocum divine perspective on his adventure. He sailed with the “The LORD on high,” the God of David, the God of the windward side of Crete.
Sitting on the Floor of Tippin Dental Group in Newton, KS
March 10, 2011