Today we’re putting out to sea. Not only are we “off to ‘sea’ the world, off to find our dreams”—as Alvin and the Chipmunks sang, anybody with me here?—we literally live in a sea world. Especially in Chile, our world revolves around the sea.
That’s not the only reason, of course, that almost all my Seaglass Sagas feature the sea as a theme and the ocean and seashore as a setting. But this country of 4500 km of coastline is seriously a sea world. No place lies more than 150 km from the Pacific, and most places closer. Far larger countries may boast far longer coastlines, but you’d be hard put to find one where the sea holds greater significance in geography, climate, and lifestyle.
We’re focused on our sea world. We dine from the sea, salmon to conger eel, and nobody makes seafood ceviche tastier! We live off the sea—fishing, diving, shipbuilding, tourism, marine research, maritime operations in multiple port facilities on the Pacific. And we even celebrate everything seaworthy and sea-related in a Month of the Sea, including a holiday specifically dedicated to Naval Glories!
Every coastal village has its own harbormaster or port captain, whose job is to oversee marine traffic and safety. Both military and civilian (merchant marine) vessels service and patrol the thousands of scattered islands and docks legal and…illegal.
Sea-ing Stars on the High Seas
Sebastián Valencia, 14 years old at the outset of the 2020 quarantine, grew up in grimy-yet-picturesque Valparaíso, the country’s leading port as well as home to Chile’s naval academy, headquarters, and heroes. Talk about quintessential sea world.
Seba’s choice out of Keli Peterson’s grab bag of story triggers is a model of the Esmeralda, the four-masted barquentine tall ship on which his father completed an extended training tour in his youth. Naturally his papá has moved up in the Navy and on to a different vessel since then.
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” –Masefield, Sea-Fever
Seba’s entry in The Quarantine Tales competition, “Narc-Sharks vs. The Armada,” tells an edge-of-the-seat saga of suspense as Captain Valencia leads a flotilla of coast guard cutters in tracking a contraband cargo of narcotics from Valparaíso to off the coast of Coquimbo. Traffickers, beware the Chilean Armada.
The way he describes it, with stars in his eyes, you might almost think he was there. When the other kids ask, he insists, “Sure, como pez en el agua—like a fish in water, I was in my element.”
His younger sister, Stasi, rolls her eyes. “Right. He’s Capitán Araya, los embarca a todos y se queda en la playa. Sends everyone aboard, and then stays on the beach.”
“Si el río suena, es porque piedras trae.” Seba grins. If people are talking about it, there’s probably some truth in it.
So is “Narc-Sharks vs. The Armada” just a teenager’s tall tale? I don’t know yet, but his dad would probably say, “Hijo de tigre siempre sale rayado.” That’s my boy, a tiger’s cub always comes striped!
Sea the World
Whether Sebastián’s narrative constitutes truth or tiger tale, fiction, fable, or fish story…the ship model represents his yearning to fit into and follow in his father’s footsteps. Just as the other “magical objects” of The Quarantine Tales highlight each person’s highest goals and deepest desires.
What does it mean, then, that so many of my books are set in a sea world? What themes can we find in such a rich motif as the sea?
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” —Jacques Cousteau
I was born, apparently, with travel in my genes and salt in my blood. My longing to see the world and my love affair with the sea first crashed over me with The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore in second grade. How did those kids get so lucky?
Eventually, I realized that all those high school trips to Bar Harbor deposited more in my own blessings bank than many teens enjoyed. Living in Maine and later Nova Scotia offered amazing privileges that I hardly knew enough to appreciate at the time.
And how even to express the delights associated with our two missionary terms in a serious sea world—the Chiloé Islands of southern Chile? The rustic pleasure of daily shore walks, porch views, and boat ministry. The sensation of fog on the skin, tides in the ear, brine in the nostrils, iodine on the tongue. Mystery on the mind, yet the paradox of peace in the heart.
I’d have bought an island if we could. Instead, my whole career I’ve poured out the emotions and the adventures in sea-world stories so interlaced with reality they’re like salt and water, sand and foam.
Walking on the Sea
The sea and water are central in biblical imagery. The God-Man Jesus loved fishermen and spent a lot of time on or by the Sea of Galilee, where he performed many miracles, taught about His Father, and told the most appealing stories.
As he calmed the stormy sea and walked over the waves, he trained His disciples in the response He expects to His words: worship, trust, awed obedience.
“The primary work we do for God is believing” (Jn. 6:29). –J. D. Greear, Not God Enough
For those of us who cherish the sea and seaside life—and all they represent in terms of beauty, rest, and recreation—it’s perhaps hard to acknowledge that in the Bible, the sea often symbolizes the “sea of humanity,” the world of ungodly men and nations.
While water itself usually signifies life, purity, and cleansing, the sea, on the other hand, embodies death, evil, and chaos. For the ancient Jews, the Sea of Galilee frequently threatened raging storms and shipwreck. In the Mediterranean, or Great Sea, as they called it, lurked sinister sea monsters.
People, as well, Jesus knew, are “like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). We who inhabit this sea world are so often faithless and fickle, unstable and unpredictable.
And we fail to trust our Father’s sovereign command and absolute dependability. Juxtaposed with Sebastián’s confident hero worship of his father, we reveal a glaring lack of faith in our Father’s supreme trustworthiness in the midst of life’s rolling swells.
“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” –Anonymous
Seas the Day
Perhaps that’s why I return again and again to seaside settings in my Seaglass Books. The Desert Island Diaries and First Mate’s Log series are both anchored in Chiloé, and even Swan Island Secrets and Winds of Andalucía link firmly with the sea.
In all of them l continue to seize another chance to learn again the lessons of God’s Sea World. There’s “so much to sea” (as the Nova Scotia tourist guide proclaims):
“Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; They have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep… So He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness…” (Ps. 107:23-24, 30-31)
Have you seen God’s works and wonders in the deep? Have you experienced His guidance to a desired haven? (I love the sound of that.) And have we believed and given thanks?
Changes are coming, and I not only want to see them, I’ll share my stories of literary sea glass with anyone who will read them. Some day—sooner than we realize—“the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9).
“Everything changes…” the character Nicolás sings in Destiny at Dolphin Bay. Like him and other story characters, we too experience change over the arc of our lives through the waves of trials and tragedies. Transformation is what our life in Christ is all about.
The term “sea-change” originally appears in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Besides indicating an actual change wrought by the action of the sea (as in the shaping of broken glass), it also means “a striking change, often for the better; an idiomatic expression denoting a substantial change in perspective; a paradigm shift.” Metamorphosis!
In the new earth, Revelation (21:1) tells us “there is no longer any sea”—another approaching paradigm shift. I admit I chafe at that a little (forgive me, Lord), but His plan for the end of the ages calls for no more sea. We’ll have “no need of the sun or of the moon” (v. 23) either, so perhaps it’s all part of living outside time.
Perhaps it also means we’ll be changed. With no more “mourning, or crying, or pain” (v. 4), we won’t long eternally for serene vacations or relaxing surf. The sea world no longer brews hurricanes or breeds ominous dragons of the deep. No more fears, no more tears.
In the phrase of another Chilean proverb, it’ll be “a cup of milk,” all as smooth as glass.
Wait a minute, doesn’t the throne of heaven sparkle with “something like a sea of glass, like crystal” (Rev. 4:6)? That sounds like a new kind of sea world.
“If the entire Bible could be encapsulated in a single sentence, then it would cry out like the resounding waves of the sea, ‘The Father loves you!’” –St. Augustine