April 15th marked the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Almost everyone knows the story; at least the story of the star-crossed lovers on the doomed oceanliner told with so much pageantry by James Cameron! He said in an interview that it was the easiest sales pitch that he ever made about a movie idea. He held up for the movie executives a picture of the sinking ship and said, “This ship – Romeo and Juliet”. Billions of dollars in movie ticket sales later, the rest is history!
Of course, most people know the story of Titanic that transpired between the hitting of the iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and its sinking 2 1/2 hours later. Go watch the movie again if you need a refresher. Or better yet, see the 3-D version! Of the lucky third of the ship’s passengers who made it into lifeboats, many reported later that they had seen the superstructure of the ship break in two before the sinking. This story was explored by both the U.S. Inquiry into the disaster and the British Board of Trade Investigation and the idea was dismissed in both cases. They determined that it simply wasn’t feasible for such a huge ship to break in half and, as there was no physical evidence, that remained the official story for the next 73 years. It was only disproved in 1985 when Robert Ballard and his crew discovered the wreckage site and found the bow and stern sections of the ship separated on the sea floor by 1/3 of a mile.
On that fateful night a century ago the majestic ship came to rest on the ocean floor at a depth of over 12,000 ft. in two main pieces and innumerable smaller pieces blanketing a 15 square mile debris field. The water pressure at that depth is a crushing 6,500 pounds per square inch. That is the force of three cars of weight on every square inch! Needless to say, a person at that depth would implode in a nanosecond. The technology had to catch up to allow exploration in that inhospitable environment.
All of this illustrates a very important point. The truth of what really happened to the ship could only be verified by plumbing the depths. It could not, as we mentioned before, be ascertained from the surface. This is the same in the spiritual life. As the humorous and all-too-true saying goes, “Faith in America is 3,000 miles wide and a 1/4 inch deep!” Learning something of the infinite depth of the great I AM can only be accomplished by prayer done in silence and seeking. THE TRUTH, God Himself, can only become known in any meaningful way when we enter the depths in prayer below the surface of the high-paced and turbulent waves of the modern world. That is not to say that the world and the beauties in it are bad. As a matter of fact, they are very good. “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Mankind, however, has a voracious appetite for distractions of its own making. To get to know God and have a personal relationship with Him one must dive below the surface and open one’s heart in prayer.
St. Therese understood this truth well. In her cloistered life she lived in almost perpetual prayer and great silence. Even during her hours of manual work and service to her sisters in the community, she engaged in constant contemplation of God. She swam in a veritable ocean of prayer and was never satisfied to judge only the surface of things. In the last few months of her life she exposed the profundity of her prayer life and her relationship with God when she wrote, “You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love You, and I am ambitious for no other glory. Your Love has gone before me, and it has grown with me, and now it is an abyss whose depths I cannot fathom. Love attracts love, and, my Jesus, my love leaps toward Yours; it would like to fill the abyss which attracts it, but alas! it is not even like a drop of dew lost in the ocean! For me to love You as You love me, I would have to borrow Your own love, and then only would I be at rest.” (Story of A Soul, p. 256) St. Therese, just like the great mystics of history, teaches us what deep prayer and relationship with God looks like. We should all take heart, though! It takes time to acclimatize to different depths of prayer just as it would to different water pressures encountered while descending in the ocean. Each one of us can begin to enjoy today at least a taste of this prayer by asking God to guide us toward Himself. We will revisit this theme at a later date.
If you are a beginner with prayer, a great place to start is with the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus Himself taught us in the Gospels. (See Matthew 6: 9-13) Try to pray it slowly and let the words really sink in.
Tomorrow I will continue with this saga of the deep by recounting James Cameron’s recent dive to the deepest place in any ocean on earth, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. See you tomorrow.