Life and FaithTheology & Spirituality

Creation’s Revelation and the Hope for Discovery

Does knowledge hinder the adventure of discovery?

After concluding some work in mainland Japan one winter, my father made his way south to Okinawa—where I lived at the time—for a weekend visit, before returning to the United States. We had talked about this particular visit for some time, as it would coincide with the seasonal visit of the humpback whales to the warmer waters of our region. My father and I made arrangements to take a ferry from Okinawa to Zamami Island, where local villagers taxi eager tourists to the nearby waters for a chance of glimpsing the whales. As we disembarked the ferry and took to the ocean in our small boat, I sat captivated by the dark blue waves capped with white, imagining what it would be like to be Elwin Ransom riding one of the great beasts somewhere below our vessel.

After about fifteen minutes, the captain brought our boat to a halt and we waited.

And waited.

Soon, the thought crept into my mind that we might not see any whales.

Until that point, I had assumed all along that we would see them. The conditions were ripe for success: it was the right time of year, with favorable weather and relatively calm water. Yet it had not occurred to me that the difference between a “whale-watching trip” and a “boat ride on a sunny day” ultimately depended upon one thing: the whales showing up. We were subject to their will. We came to discover them, but it was their prerogative to reveal themselves to us. Whether they did or not would simply be a manifestation of what they are, not a matter of appeasement or spite.

Perhaps this is what makes a whale sighting, however brief, such a gift. The mystery of these creatures tugs at our curiosity. It speaks to the part of our hearts that longs for authentic elegance and strength. We yearn for just a glimpse, and if we do, in fact, receive one, we are awed.

About twenty expectant minutes had passed since the captain brought our boat to a halt, when quite suddenly, our desire was fulfilled. For an hour our little group watched the humpbacks draw near the ocean’s surface, spray seawater into the pale blue Pacific sky, pivot downward, and descend to unknown depths. There were no great leaps or displays of might; just a subtle broach of the water’s surface and a wave goodbye from their tails as the creatures swam.

As the whales demonstrated, everything we know—everything—is given to us. What we discover we did not create. We can set up all the right conditions, prepare ourselves completely . . . and ultimately have no control over what is revealed (or not revealed) to us. Thank goodness there are things made known to us independent of our efforts. Not only does such disclosure add color to life, but it also serves as the distasteful medicine we desperately need to subdue the fever of our pride in progress.

Knowledge, I suspect, has become the idol of our day. Speaking to a crowd of roughly three hundred Marines during a visit to Okinawa, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart remarked that “the coin of the realm is cognitive.” But I wonder if we even know why knowledge is a coin. It is a tool so readily available to us, but I fear far too few of us know how to wield this sword, much less to what end we wield it.

Will discovery continue to exist in a time when knowledge is so readily available? So long as there is a Creator who has been from everlasting to everlasting, there is hope for discovery. Conversely, such hope implies that discovery itself is not what we are after, but that which made it possible in the first place.

In that pursuit, we must not forget that we are but small creatures in small boats, owed nothing— nonetheless eagerly expecting Everything. Recognizing this reality frees us of the responsibility to fix our brokenness that we have somehow assumed, and allows us to live in a manner that the rest of creation seems to intuitively understand as it glides through the warmer waters of the South Pacific.

J.D. Canclini is a Marine officer currently stationed in Quantico, Virginia.

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