Last Sunday I drove along the coast road from Muizenburg down to Simonstown. I had just one goal – to spot at least one whale this year. (I confess that all too frequently spring slips into summer and I realise I have missed the whales on their annual sojourn in False Bay). I was rewarded for my efforts in two different spots.
At one particular place, the whales seem to enjoy hanging out quite close to shore. As I stood there watching the ocean, waiting for a whale to pop out a flipper, or better yet a tail, it occurred to me that whale watching is a good image for that elusive experience of ‘finding God in all things’.
That oft quoted Ignatian phrase is bandied about (by me as much anyone else!) often without much explanation. So, why is whale watching a good metaphor?
Firstly, in order to see the whales you need to be looking at the ocean. You can’t just sit somewhere in the proximity and hope you’ll see something out of the corner of your eye.
Secondly, you need to be focused on whale watching – if you are distracted by checking what happening on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever else is dividing your attention) you are likely to look up as the people around you gasp or comment, only to see ripple closing around the now disappeared whale.
Thirdly, you need to be patient, there is absolutely nothing you can do that is going to make the whale appear.
But… if you are watching and waiting, knowing that the whales are there but unable to see them, you are rewarded time and time again.
Most of us are not able to ‘find God in all things’ on the fly. We need to stop, to be attentive, and to trust that if we wait long enough we may catch a glimpse. We need to put away the cellphone, to take a few deep breaths and to notice the God who is with us. We need to ask God to show us where God has been, and then as we let our minds wonder over the day we have had to keep watching the ‘surface of the water’ – don’t get too distracted by the things you haven’t done, or things you wished you hadn’t done, or the things which other people hadn’t done. Let them roll over you, keeping you eye out for the moments of connection, the moments of joy, the moments of peace, the moments where God was just a little more tangible.
There is one more aspect of whale watching – there are some places where the whales are easier to spot. The more frequently you go to try to see them the more you get to know their favourite haunts. So too, the more frequently you try to spot God, the more you begin to recognise where God seems to be a little more tangible. Start off looking in those places, once you have caught a glimpse of God, you can raise your eyes to the other spaces in your life.