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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Whale Church

This week I'm feeling "Forrest Gumpish," like saying "that's all I have to say about that," and pulling the plug on the blog. The feeling will pass, I imagine, and I'll think of something new to say. Until then, I'll say something old. The following was written for an autobiography group that I participated in at my church some years back. I chose this "chapter" to post now, thanks to the inspiration of new blogfriend, Vicki, who wrote a lovely post with beautiful pix, "The First Church of Water Lilies" a few days ago.

Several years ago, Jif and I went to Boston. He had a conference for work, and I was just a tagalong. I loved it there. We rode the subway (my first), and I was very impressed with how safe it appeared. Elderly people and people with young children rode it late at night with no apparent fear. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, and all around the city, and generally had a great time.

I had two contrasting experiences of my spirituality on that trip. The first was in the presence of whales. We went on a whale-watching boat, about 40 miles off the coast of Boston Harbor. As we prepared to leave, the man on the loudspeaker informed us that we were embarking on "a three-hour tour." All those present who had grown up with "Gilligan's Island," myself included, immediately repeated after him, singing together, "a three-hour tour." I hoped this wasn't an omen about the fate of our excursion!

The guides on the boat were very knowledgeable about whales, and told us what we might see. They also warned us that sometimes they didn't see any whales at all on these trips. As we made our way out to whale territory, I tried not to get my hopes up.

We saw whales. We saw whales like no one else on this tour company's boats had ever seen whales, according to the excited guides. We saw at least six whales, humpbacks and minkes. We saw them far away and close up. We saw their eyes. We saw them breach and dive and spout. I've never been so thrilled by the majesty of a sight. For a grand finale, one whale came within six feet of the boat, rocking and splashing us, and scaring us for a brief moment. But that moment of fear was fleeting, and suddenly everyone on the boat became about 3 years old, jumping and squealing with delight. We laughed and clapped for the whale. Some of us cried. Adult self-consciousness quickly returned and most of us regained proper composure. I remained ecstatic. I realized my applause was for God. I'm sure there were others who felt that way. Like we were in church -- the House of God -- on the ocean. Whale Church.

Later in the week, on Sunday, I guess, I went to "real" church. It was a historical landmark, in the town square, and I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember its name. It was large and beautiful, with stained glass and lots of wood. In the part where I sat, there were kneelers covered in needlepointed fabric. As I looked around, I realized that the needlepoint work was the names of different families, some symbol representing that family, and the date it was placed there. Many had been there well over 100 years. The history of the building, and the beauty of its decoration, brought a special dimension to the worship, as did the kneeling and praying where another family knelt to pray almost 200 years ago.

As I left that church (after a guided tour of it, which was offered after the service), I felt like I had been to church, but not the same as when I'd been to whale church. As I thought about this, I realized that simplicity and straightforwardness are important to me, and feel more like God to me. On the ocean it was water, whales, God and us. With a marvelous building come many complications. It was beautiful, but having been involved in "beautifying" churches before, I wondered how many arguments there were about window treatments, lighting, etc., who "won" and "lost" those arguments, who felt hurt. And in that church, public tours were given. I imagine there were many discussions about time, admission price, what would be off limits, and other considerations I can't even think of. Wonderful structures are well, wonderful, but I sometimes think the more people are impressed by them, the more God can get lost in them.

I know some people don't feel this way at all. I suppose it's a personality trait. I've been to "church" in the forest in Yellowstone and in the Grand Tetons, and felt very connected to God there. Those points of connection, like whale church, are few and far between with the lifestyle that we have (lifestyle meaning time and money available to run away from suburbia), but in a way they challenge me to attend traditional church and try to maintain at least an echo of that awesome connection, until I can go to another place -- usually outdoors -- and get recharged.

46 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Whoa... you lost me at "... pulling the plug on the blog."

Uh? Why? You can't leave! I would miss you terribly! It's me, isn't it? I haven't commented in the past day or so, I don't know why. Just feeling a little quiet or something, I guess. It's nothing to do with you, it's me. Really. Me. I'm sorry I didn't comment, ok? Please, just don't go. Ok? I'll comment every single day, I swear!

(and for the love of Pete, people, I'm kidding, k? Little joke, all right? I'm not *completely* neurotic...)

Blogger SRH said...

I guess a similar story of "church" for me happened in Olde London Towne across the pond. My best friend and I were given a trip to Europe as a high school graduation gift, and it happened that we were in St Paul's Cathedral when there was an organ recital. That was frikkin awe inspiring. Bach on a pipe organ that was built when Bach was flourishing in St Paul's is absolutely amazing and uplifting.

Anyway... that is one of those not worshipping "church" moments.

Blogger Susie said...

CK, shut up. NOOO, I'm just blah about it this week; it will pass. I think everyone feels that way sometimes, right? And did I mention, shut up?

srh, wow, I would love to do that. I can almost hear and feel the sound and vibration. Sacred.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

On the church -- My Grandmother was a very classy, well-turned out lady, although she didn't always have the means to be (when she was younger). Several years ago, she began to tell us about the church she watched on Sundays, it was "The Crystal Cathedral". That didn't surprise me at all.

In a way, church is like education -- some people learn more in a beautiful building, some learn more from inside a simple structure with dedicated teachers, and others learn more from just being silent and watching life unfold.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Shutting up now. ;)

Anonymous Julie said...

There will be no more talk of plug-pulling, young lady. It DOES pass ... take it from someone who feels this way about her blog at least once a week.

Blogger Susie said...

CK, sorry about the eth-U word, you don't have to shut up. You are right, that comment is very wise. "Being silent and watching life unfold" is one of my favorite methods of learning about people, or life or God. You might not know that from how "wordy" I am on here, but that's me in real life.

julie, TRULY, thank you for that. I imagined that others felt that way, but I do appreciate your confirmation :) And I do believe it will pass; once a week, huh? Yea, I can believe that.

Anonymous peefer said...

I am not a religious person, but I can relate very well to your whale church (and I also think the marriage of these two words is simply beautiful). For me, such experiences are more spiritual and though-provoking than any psalm or sermon I heard as a child.

By the way, the Church of Autumn Maples is one of my favourites.

Blogger Jeffs place said...

cool post Susie. It is the the simple little things I see every day to the bizzarre and beautiful that cement my belief in a creator. I believe he is everywhere in everything and has to have a hell of a sense of humor to boot.

Blogger LadyBug said...

That was beautiful, Susie. I'm all teary now.

As for pulling the plug...Yes, we all feel that way sometimes. Yes, it (usually) passes. But if it doesn't, don't let anyone pressure you into posting. (I know you won't. I just felt it was worth saying.)

Thanks for this post, Susie. I needed it, more than you know, and in ways I won't go into here.

God bless,

Anonymous lawbratl said...

I, for one, am so bless to have 'met' you. On Sundays here, it 'Susie Church'. I do actually get out my bible and read the passages.
Im thinking of doing a bible study. I'm going to make a post about it. Kind of a blogger bible study. I'll post this week about it.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

First: I can't say I haven't had the same feeling on my own blog, Susie. Some days I just look at it and go, is there really anything more I can say?
But you know what? There always is. And old stories are my staple, so don't feel bad about writin' about things that already happened.

Second: You know I am absolutely not a religious person. But I love your whale church. The closest I ever felt to God or the universe, or whatever you wanna call it (and I don't know what I wanna call it) is when Jim and I were up north about 15 years ago. It was a clear night, and no city lights sullied our view of the heavens, and we watched an all-night display of the northern lights. It was all white, and it looked like the sky was rippling black satin. Jim and I laid on the hood of his truck, out in a field somewhere, not sayin' a word, just transfixed. I've never had that feeling again, from anything.

Blogger WILLIAM said...

I like your church. Can I join? How much do I need to leave in the envelope each week to be considered a participating member in good standing?

Truly a great post.

Blogger Nina said...

I can relate to your Whale church . . . as an American Indian. I was raised that way. Nature in all her glory can and does put you close to our Creator.

I read your entry “Therapists Gone Wild” to my husband last night. He laughed, and then he said several things. First he said to be sure to tell you he enjoyed it. Second he said you are a wonderful writer and I agree with him. Third he agreed that as a psychiatrist and medical director of our hospital that he will never be on TV in a thong. I told him, that was good to know.

Blogger ieatcrayonz said...

Susie, do not pull the plug.
I repeat, do not pull the plug.
If what you really need is just a break, I'm sure everyone understands.

James 1:17
I've never been to whale church, but it sounds like my cup of tea.

When I was a college freshman, I signed up to be a summer camp counselor at a non-denominational church camp. We had Sunday services outdoors right next to the Guadelupe River. They were some of the most beautiful services I ever attended.

Anonymous Vicki Bennett said...

Lovely post, Susie. It resonates with me! I have to say my "peak religious" experiences have mostly all been tied to the wonders of nature, I also find these moments the ones where I can easily hold the dichotomy of evolution and the notion of creation firmly in hand simultaneously, no conlfict.

The sheer enormity of whales along with their grace and those eyes- that IS a religious experience. When T.D. and I kayaked the Inside Passage we had a similar experience over three hours of silent still observation.

I have to say, when I DO kneel, I'm partial to needlepointed kneelers. Thanks for the memories and images.

Blogger eclectic said...

My dad always sighed when we'd spend the weekend in the mountains and he'd say just being there fed his soul. And now that I'm grown, I find that I agree with him more than ever. There's just something elemental about the great beauty of places in the outdoors.

Blogger Susie said...

OK, one thing I see happening here is that a lot of you people have your own "other" church stories. Go write 'em!

peefer, thank you, and oh, yes, I could worship well in your church, too :)

jeff, I agree, much too big to be contained in a building. And humor is indeed, one of the greatest gifts we've been given. Oh, may I call you Jeff?

ladybug, if I may quote my friend, ladybug, "God bless you." I don't know what's going on, but I know that your comment is a gift to me. It's one of those days, and I think we all have them, when I think, "This is nothing; why post this, no one but me gives a crap about this," and then you find out that others do feel the same way, and even that you said just what someone needed to hear. Those are holy moments in blogging. And they do come around with enough regularity to keep us keeping on, don't they? Thank you, my friend.

lawbrat, what I said to ladybug, too. And I look forward to seeing your Bible study post; very intriguing.

bucky, that is a beautiful story (blogit!), and something I've never seen, but your description filled me up. On this trip you are about to take, you may have new experiences, new sights that come close, (I hope, I hope), and I'm not talking about any of JR's parts, magnificent though they may be. ;)

william, absolutely, join. All are welcome, especially commenters who always make me smile. No envelopes, they'd just get soggy. Just say "Thank You" often to our gracious Host, that's the only membership requirement :)

nanina, thank you, and thank your husband. You made me laugh here today. I'm so glad your husband has agreed to stay off TV in his thong (and you must be so proud of that conviction!); I am trying to spread the gospel of "No shrinks on TV in thongs or garter belts," Amen. And do remind him, he needs to refrain from aiding in prison escapes, as well ;)

crayoneater, thank you; it does help lift the blogblahs when the nice people start showing up, doesn't it?! Yes, I'm sure I would have enjoyed your riverside services.

vicki!, my muse ;) Thank you for your kind words and for the inspiration. oh, those swans. Yes, I think I get what you say about creation/evolution; in those moments, there's no conflict, and no need to analyze. Just experience, just let it take you. It is good.

eclectic, yes; I supervise a therapist who's going for her license, and she is interested in "ecopsychology," which I don't know much about, but the bit of it that does resonate for me, is that there are natural places that do feed our souls, and make us feel better, more well. Yep.

To work, now. Thank you all, enjoy something!

Anonymous kalki said...

I quoted part of this Emily Dickenson poem on greenie's blog awhile back, and now feel it's an appropriate comment today on yours.

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.

God preaches,-- a noted clergyman,
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I'm going all along!

Blogger Random and Odd said...

Yeah...I have felt the same way lately...I think we aren't taking enough vitamins and getting enough exersise.

Go take a vitamin Susie...I'll go for a walk and EVERYTHING will be all pretty and sparkly again!!


Anonymous kalki said...

Dickinson. I meant Dickinson. (What? It's not like I used to be an English teacher or something...) :)

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

What a great story. I too has that feeling when killer whales swam around and under our sailboat when I was as kid. Even at that age I felt the universe was pretty damned cool.

Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

More beautiful writing, Susie. Whale Church! Who'd a thought?

Blogger laurenbove said...

Holy Cow! Susie, you scared me, too! I'm glad you clarified after Circus Kelli's comment. Whooo. Too scary.

Blogger Lori said...

I am an agnostic, bordering on atheist, but I can definitely appreciate your story about the whale church.

I felt the same way, kind of, when I visited the Grand Canyon in November 2003. Not so much in a religious sense...more like I finally understood the meaning of perspective. In fact, I burst into tears at first sight of it. It was just breath-taking.

Have you ever been to the GC? If not, you should definitely try to get there at some point. I would be surprised if you didn't experience the same feelings there.

Blogger Greenthumb said...

C.K.: LOL! Susie is right, there is something in the air this week. Summer Break Fever: symptoms may include a lackadaisical approach to almost anything, including work, gardening, cleaning the house. There may be an over whelming need to nap, snack, or just lounge by the pool.

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, you are encouraged to give into them. I am.

I like the comment from kalki best of all...That is truly the best church poem ever.

Blogger Greenthumb said...

Susie: Whale Church is beautifully written, you are a treasure to behold here.

pssst....that spikey jeweled picture from my post is and Allium 'Sensation' seed head with rain drops.

Blogger Candace said...

Lovely, as usual.

I grew up in the Lutheran church, an altogether pleasant experience. The closest I ever felt to God, however, was at the moment my daughter was born. My son had been born three years earlier, under very difficult and life-threatening circumstances, and I don't remember much of the actual birth (c-section). But The Girl was born the other way (somehow saying the V word on your blog seems very naughty. Very naughty indeed) and at the moment of her birth I felt...something. I can't explain it or describe it. It was amazing.

Thanks for making me think of it all over again; it's a wonderful memory to relive.

Blogger Andrea said...

Susie, that's a little how I was last week when I didn't post. Just feeling a little burnt out. And I came back this week with what seemed like 100 posts :) So, yeah, it'll come back.

And those whales sounded so cool. We've only ever gone looking for dolphins, which WERE way cool, but whales...wow. Makes me think of that scene in CastAway.

Blogger mrtl said...

I feel closer to God (if he can be named that without freaking me out) when out in nature. Organized religion annoys me and distracts me too much.

Enormously tall trees, tops of mountains, hidden lakes. That's where it's at. You think I feel closer to it all here instead of Texas. Absolutely.

Blogger kenju said...

It shall pass, I WILL it to happen! I love this post, and I have felt similarly many times. I esepcially like the line about how God can get lost in wonderful buildings and I know just what you mean. Last night I saw something on the news about Joel Osteen and his new 'church'; 30,000 people in one sitting?!?

Blogger Annejelynn said...

I NEED MORE TIME TO KEEP UP WITH EVERYONE - I saw thist post and went -uh-oh, must stop and really read this!!!

and a small request, please don't quit blogging - you're one of my faves babe!!!

Blogger Ern said...

I am completely on the same page as you with the church and outdoors. Both are important, but sometimes in a church, especially a fancy, elaborate building, I feel like there is too much "stuff" between me and God. Simplicity.

In Mexico we saw breathtaking cathedrals with soaring arches and gold gilding, statues and stained glass and paintings and ornate pipe organs. All incredibly beautiful, but when contrasted with the poverty of the people, it seems wrong to me. I don't think that is how Jesus would have spent money--on "beautification." Just my two cents. Great post.

Blogger Spurious Plum said...

Can I join Whale Church? It sounds like just the right way to thank God. This was so beautiful!

On a sterner note, Susie, don't you dare, DARE stop blogging. I'll have to find you and spank you. Naughty!

Blogger Susie said...

kalki, that is a beautiful poem. You can quote Emily Dickerson here any time ;)

kristine, have you been talking to Tom Cruise?

kranki, it is pretty damned cool, indeed.

thanks, hoss. A lotta people woulda thought! I just happened to say it in a blog ;)

LB, I can be pretty scary, but I'm not going away just yet.

lori, I haven't been there yet, but I hope to go. I imagine it is very much the same kind of feeling. Thank you.

greenie, "Give in to your symptoms..." hmmmm, that is a new approach. I knew that plant was shaped like Allium, but I thought of Allium as blue/purple. Or maybe that just didn't change yet? Thanks for the kind things you say :)

misfit, VAGINAL is the word you're looking for, I believe ;)
I felt a lot like that when I saw LG's heart beating on the sonogram. I'm glad you got to have good birth memories.

andrea, thanks for the encouragement. I didn't see castaway. I think, "Tom Hanks, volleyball, nah." I might rent it sometime though.

mrtl, you're mighty lovely in your new profile pic, even though you won't allow me to earn my hedgehog patch. I would imagine there is a lot there in the natural environment that could inspire awe.

kenju, wow, 30,000. My church usually has about 100 in attendance. That suits me fine.

annejelynn, thanks, you're so sweet to me. When I do decide to go out of business, I'll have a big party, or a clearance sale or something, and let y'all know.

ern, absolutely. "Clutter" can get in the way, no matter how expensive or tasteful or ancient. Like you, I wonder about the extravagant buildings and furnishings when the people don't have enough. WWJB: What would Jesus buy?

plum, yes, you are most welcome to join Whale Church. As I told William, another new member, just saying "thank you" is all that's required, and I know you do that already :) I'm not being naughty, just blah. I got the blahs, but not the blues. Different.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

WWJB: What Would Jesus Buy?

I think he'd buy a boat to go watch the whales, that's what.

Blogger Torrie said...

There is nothing more spiritual than feeling a conection with another being. Human or not.

Blogger Nic said...

Well, just like Forrest Gump, you have a beautiful spirit and a unique and interesting way of viewing the world around you. You bring smiles to the hearts of readers everywhere. If you were to close the blog it would create a void in the blogsphere b/c so many come here to enjoy you on a daily basis. However, I know that you will do whatever you feel is what you should do.

Either way, bless you for letting us into your life and allowing us to become part of your blog family!

BTW, I have a plethora of 4th of July recipes on my site that you might like!

Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

Ok alright people! I havent even been here, ok well I have but I havent said anything, I am being good, such a nice post and everything and SOMEHOW my parts come up anyways.

You can all just kiss my hoots, my huge whale sized hoots.

And by the way, it really is a lovely post, nature is the basis of my spiritual belief system and watching animals in their own enviroment is really an amazing thing that really sets your mind and heart free. But then, I feel that way about everything in nature. I am not out alot in the summer due to the heat, but in fall I feel more alive then any other time of the year.

Oh and if you DO stop blogging, I will personally take it upon myself to fill your email inbox with so many naked pictures you will be tramaztied into having to blog about it. Dont make me whip out the hoots and start boobin' up your email. I will do it. This bra comes off in two flicks of my fingers, I am so armed and ready.

Blogger dashababy said...

That was beautiful, wow. I didnt read all your comments because Im sure somebody has already said what Im gonna say, that always happens. Anyway,,, Im gonna start callin you Barbara Walters or Oprah,,, makin me get all teary eyed. But thanks that was a great post, I loved it.... sniffle.
I wanna see some whales.

Blogger Susie said...

bucky, I think there is some scriptural evidence to support your hypothesis ;)

torrie, amen.

nic, thank you, you are so kind and encouraging, all the time. I am waaaaay behind in my visiting, but I shall come and get me some recipes, very soon. You always have the best stuff over there :)

JR, I can't believe you have threatened to start "boobin' up" my email. Cheezwhiz, I'll have to keep blogging until I really am old enough for the senior discount. Keep those things contained, wouldja?!

dashababymama, well, I'd have to differ with you there, because I don't think you were gonna threaten to overwhelm me with nekkid pictures, like some people have. But anyhow, it is nice to see you, and thank you for being so sweet and non-nekkid and all. I hope you see lots of whales some time.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

"huge whale sized hoots"

I think I have a new band name. Who's with me?

Blogger Susie said...

bucky, I would be with you, but I'd never make that band. More like "guppy puppies" here.

Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

I find it to be totally inprobable that you actually CAN'T believe I would threaten you with Hoots.

I think you CAN believe it, and that late at night, when your all alone, you giggle and say to yourself, Hoots,hahaha hoots.

And I bet 50 cents that tonight when you fall asleep you have bizzare dreams of Shamu in a padded push up bra.

My work here is done.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

Shamu in a padded pushup bra? That's what Jim sees whenever he rolls over in bed at night!

Blogger Susie said...

bucky and jess, we're expecting big things from the two of you in ca-hoots. (I am very frightened.)


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