What Happens When the Tide Comes in and Returns to the Sea?

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O strengthen me, that while I stand Firm on the rock, and strong in Thee.  I may stretch out a loving hand, to wrestlers with the troubled sea.  (From the hymn, “Lord Speak to Me that I May Speak” by Frances R. Havergal, 1872)

Have you ever walked into the water along an ocean shore, and stood there as the tide came lapping onto the beach – then felt the sand under your feet slip away back into the ocean?

What do we do when the undertow of the world in which we inhabit, sweeps the faith upon which we stand, back into a sea bent on capsizing it?

Poets of the nineteenth century, like Alfred Tennyson and Matthew Arnold, were struggling with similar doubts about faith in their era.  One of Arnold’s most famous nineteenth-century poems, Dover Beach,  expresses that struggle as he recalls an occasion on his honeymoon in 1851, where he stood at an open window that overlooked the cliffs of Dover, observing the shoreline below, and becoming captivated by the sights and sounds of the sea as the tide went out.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,


Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

“This is the sound, he notes, that Sophocles described many centuries before — in his play Antigone — a sound that made the Greek dramatist think of the “turbid ebb and flow/of human misery.”  The sound gives Arnold a thought as well, but one quite different and particularly attuned to his age.  For Arnold the retreating sea is a sad metaphor for the Christian faith, ebbing from his world and leaving a naked shoreline in its wake.  There was a time, he wistfully recalls, when the world was comfortably filled to the full with faith:” – Bart Ehrman

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

How then, do we stop the erosion of our collective faith into a world intent on subverting it into whatever suits the day – a world that is clouded by its own temporal wants and desires  that run contrary to true Christianity – you know,  the Christianity which is embodied in Jesus Christ?

Our civilization today seems headed for the same fate as the Roman Empire some 1500 years ago.  The church is being hollowed out and has lost its influence in a culture marked by irreverence, nihilism, political paganism, and depravity.

Maybe we start with a reconciliation of those of us – Protestants and Catholics – who  together, subscribe to and follow the teachings of Christ found in the Gospels.

Maybe those evangelical church-goers who practice a pseudo-religiosity by bowing to the false idol of politics, need to turn away and return to the faithful.

We were never meant to go it alone, as if in a vacuum, but as one body in Christ, described by the Apostle Paul in the Pauline epistles, as the [Christian] Church – the holy catholic (not Roman Catholic) church, which we affirm in the Apostle’s Creed.

The word catholic was first used in the early second century church to represent the body of Christ extended throughout the ages.

When we see the body of Christ merely as a collection of individuals, rather than a bonded “community” of believers, there is often the tendency to foster disunity rather than unity, in the Kingdom of God.

“Calls for social [spiritual] cohesion will fall on deaf ears if we see ourselves as a collection of individuals, rather than as a society of people with a share[d] interest in each other’s welfare.”  

“The spirit of the Pharisees lurks in each one of us, tempting us to sit in judgment on others and even to seek to exclude them from the church.” ― Quotes by Basil Cardinal Hume (1923-1999}


I believe my question will be answered when the whole body of Christ comes together to form a break wall of rock that can withstand any force pummeled against it.

Then, and only then, can the “Church” as ordained by Christ, give flesh to his teachings, stop the erosion, and become a mediator on behalf of Christ – bearing quiet witness to a world removed from him,

and return the sea to a sea of faith again.