I’ve only tried surfing once and, being such a bad swimmer (and it being a pretty miserable and cold day in East London) I didn’t get very far. Still, the whole culture around surfing and the idea itself has always intrigued me. It does for a lot of people. This weekend I rented a documentary on big wave surfing and a lot of what the surfers said really spoke to me in ways I didn’t expect. Or maybe I did. I don’t know. But I realised something about surfing and life and my own philosophical rantings.
My own philosophy and my theological meanderings always seem to focus around the same core things. At the end of the day I want to feel as if I’m really alive in this world – that each moment is real, that life is real. I want to connect with the real, know truly that I am alive and experience life pumping through my veins.
Matt Warshaw, a surfer, said this: “Surfing expresses … a pure yearning for visceral, physical contact with the natural world.”
This is why I think surfing gets it. When a surfer goes out there he connects with the real – he rides a wave of beauty, power and majesty. He gets a thrill out of doing so. He wants to come back and do it again. He’s connecting with the real world – the beautiful, good and ultimately thrilling world we’re surrounded with. The world that God made and called good in Genesis 1.
There are two worlds. The real world and the ‘real’ world. Many people will look at surfers and say they must come back to the ‘real’ world. What they mean is the man-made world. Careers, power, politics, money, image and so forth. Meanwhile the real world isn’t all that at all – it’s the air you breathe, the feeling of the sand in your toes, your newborn son’s cries, your lover’s touch, the power of a wave beneath you. This is the real world, the world as God created it, the world He enjoys and we can actually enjoy. We’re supposed to enjoy it, not destroy it or hate it and pray that God will one day take us out of it into some ethereal plain made of clouds.
God created life to be about the real – beauty, glory, relationship. While surfing is a notoriously selfish sport in some ways I think the connection with nature is vital. I’m not some pseudo new-ager in disguise, but I find that God in the Scriptures is decidedly down-to-earth. He likes what He made. So much so that He is renewing it, not destroying it, and when he will make a new earth (Rev 21:1) it’s still an earth. He likes the earth and the universe, I suspect.
I find new-age philosophy doesn’t get this. It’s so busy trying to show how humankind is divine that it is unable to connect us with what truly is divine. It sure tries, it sure says it wants to, but it fails.
I wish pop-theology and pop-christian-philosophy would get this. We’re so surrounded by imagery and ideas that are not down-to-earth but weird and super-spiritual and incredibly difficult to live under. Too much of Christian thinking lives in the ‘real’ world, with its politics and power and grand Babylonian-tower ideals and philosophies around how to do everything rather than in the real world, with its beauty, simplicity, dirt and, well, love. Most of the real world is quite mysterious – here formulas don’t work.
That’s why Jesus spoke in parables that relate to the real world – birds and flowers and so forth. I mean, he did for other reasons as well, but I think this might be one. It’s a great pity that contemporary Christianity doesn’t live in the waves with the mystery and beauty one finds there (if you get my metaphor) but rather lives in a concrete, man-made, neat-on-the-outside-but-rotting-on-the-inside jungle of ideas. You can have clean teeth but clean teeth don’t make you clean. It’s what inside that makes you clean (Matt 15:11).
In my blog and writing I’m ultimately trying to draw people away from the ‘real’ world and to the real world. Ultimately to God where the Joy and Connectedness we’re looking for is found (I do believe a big part of this drawing is through nature, which is worth discussing in my next post.) But sometimes even I get sucked into the ‘real’ world where I need to worry about my career and my influence and my ambitions and too many things to count. Some are valid, like investing for my kids’ future; some are truly time-wasting, because they don’t connect me to the real, like scouring the Internet trying to increase my profile as a writer.
What to do, I ask? Well, I’m digressing. Let’s look at what’s more important. In my next post I’ll continue to build the idea of connecting to God through nature and in this I think surfing gets it too. Some surfers or ordinary people probably think I’m being crazy or weird about this, but you’ll see what I mean in the next post.
About Ryan Peter
Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.