Re-membering the Ocean

A Meditation for Beloved Community – Finding Dory and Isaiah 44:21-28

 

Remember these things, O Jacob,

and Israel, for you are my servant;

I formed you, you are my servant;

O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.

I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud,

and your sins like mist;

return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;

shout, O depths of the earth;

break forth into singing, O mountains,

O forest, and every tree in it!

For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,

and will be glorified in Israel.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,

who formed you in the womb:

I am the Lord, who made all things,

who alone stretched out the heavens,

who by myself spread out the earth;

who frustrates the omens of liars,

and makes fools of diviners;

who turns back the wise,

and makes their knowledge foolish;

who confirms the word of his servant,

and fulfills the prediction of his messengers;

who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited,”

and of the cities of Judah, “They shall be rebuilt,

and I will raise up their ruins”;

who says to the deep, “Be dry—

I will dry up your rivers”;

who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd,

and he shall carry out all my purpose”;

and who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be rebuilt,”

and of the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”

 

Redemptive Memories

The late Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 began his Nobel address entitled, “Hope, Despair, and Memory,” in this way:

 

A Hasidic legend tells us that the great Rabbi Baal-Shem-Tov, Master of the Good Name, also known as the Besht, undertook an urgent and perilous mission: to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people, all humanity were suffering too much, beset by too many evils. They had to be saved, and swiftly. For having tried to meddle with history, the Besht was punished; banished along with his faithful servant to a distant land. In despair, the servant implored to bring them both home. “Impossible,” the Besht replied. “My powers have been taken from me”. “Then, please, say a prayer, recite a litany, work a miracle”. “Impossible,” the Master replied, “I have forgotten everything”. They both fell to weeping.

 

Suddenly, the Master turned to his servant and asked: “Remind me of a prayer – any prayer.” “If only I could,” said the servant.” “I too have forgotten everything”. “Everything – absolutely everything?” “Yes, except – “Except what?” “Except the alphabet”. At that the Besht cried out joyfully: “Then what are you waiting for? Begin reciting the alphabet and I shall repeat after you…”. And together the two exiled men began to recite, at first in whispers, then more loudly: “Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth…”. And over again, each time more vigorously, more fervently; until, ultimately, the Besht regained his powers, having regained his memory.

 

I love this story, for it illustrates the messianic expectation -which remains my own. And the importance of friendship to man’s ability to transcend his condition. I love it most of all because it emphasizes the mystical power of memory. Without memory, our existence would be barren and opaque, like a prison cell into which no light penetrates; like a tomb which rejects the living. Memory saved the Besht, and if anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.

 

“Without memory, our existence would be barren and opaque. If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. Hope without memory is like memory without hope.” These are powerful, and truthful lines written by a man whose life necessitated remembering an event that called the entire scope of civilization into question. In spite of his trauma, Wiesel still believed that redemption and salvation were found in memory.

 

The emphasis upon salvific memory does give me reason to pause, though… what does this mean for those whose memories have failed them? What does this mean for those suffering from alzheimers/dementia, or traumatic brain injury, or amnesia?

 

Finding Dory

What does this mean for Dory? What does salvific memory mean for our forgetful, and lovable fish friend, who ran into Marlin one year ago, and “Just kept swimming,” all the way across the ocean to 42 Wallaby Way Sidney, where she rescued Nemo from a dentist’s fish tank, and then journeyed back to live with Nemo and Marlin on the Great Barrier Reef?

 

When our story picks up, Dory is “helping” Marlin raise Nemo and has accompanied Nemo’s class on a field trip to watch the great stingray migration. As the class reaches the edge of the reef, an overwhelming school of stingrays begins to move by, their momentum nearly pushing the class over the edge of the reef. As they fly through the water, the stingrays sing their song together:

 

“O, we’re going home.

Sweeping to and fro,

Our hearts know where to go.

Beating like a trumpet sends us

back to where we’re from

O, we’re going home.

We know who we are ,

and its time to travel far.

Days and nights we roam,

to make our way back home.

O, we’re going home!”

 

This song stirs something in Dory. It awakens something from the deep, and a deep abiding memory emerges and flashes before Dory’s eyes, “I have a home. I have a family. I remember that I have a home. I remember that I have a family, and I have to find them.”

 

Dory tries to convince Marlin, the overbearing, protective, fearful, wounded, father of Nemo that it’s time to make another journey. It’s time to leave the safety and security of the Great Barrier Reef and journey across the ocean into the unknown where she might find a family that she might remember.

 

Marlin doesn’t want to go. He protests, “The only point of travel is so that you never have to travel again.” Looking out across the ocean from the edge of the reef he says, “Why can’t we just enjoy the view, why does someone always have to leave?”

 

And Dory replies, “All I know is that I miss them. Do you know what that feels like?”

 

Marlin does know what that feels like, of course. He knows what it feels like to miss his wife, Coral, who was killed along with all but one of their eggs in a barracuda attack, and he knows what it feels like to miss Nemo, the only other survivor of the attack, who has a limited swimming ability, and was captured by divers off the edge of the reef a year ago.

 

So Dory, Marlin, and Nemo set off on another grand journey. With the help of Crush, the turtle, they ride a water current to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. It’s totally righteous. Sick Man.

 

When they jump off the water current, Dory begins to recognize her surroundings. She’s sort of stumbling around, halfway awake, halfway remembering having been here before … which reminds me of a look I’ve seen from my grandfather before, when I walk into his room and he says, “You look familiar, we go way back, don’t we?”… Well, in the middle of this stupor, a giant squid attacks our trio and nearly devours Nemo. Once the threat of the attack has passed, Marlin lashes out at Dory as he tends to Nemo. Dejected, Dory swims to the surface, where she is scooped up by staff from the nearby Marine Life Institute and taken to Quarantine, where she is given a little orange tag.

 

In Quarantine, Dory meets a grouchy Septopus named Hank who is envious of her tag, which, as he informs her, means that she will be transported to live in a permanent aquarium in Cleveland. Hank, who suffered from a traumatic ocean life, hence he is “Hank the Septopus,” and not, “Hank the Octopus,” agrees to help Dory find her parents in exchange for her tag.

 

As Hank and Dory travel around from exhibit to exhibit within the Marine Life Institute, Dory reacquaints with old friends and begins to piece together her early life. Her old friends begin to remind her of who she is, and where she came from. Along the way, she remembers that she was raised by two wonderful parents, named Jenny and Charlie, who loved her very much.

 

Unlike Marlin, who held on to Nemo so tightly, Jenny and Charlie desperately wanted Dory to have freedom to explore the world and become a better version of herself. They knew, of course, that she would need some handles. If she was going to explore, she needed to know her way back home, and brilliantly, they discovered that Dory loved seashells, and could always find them on the bottom of the Open Ocean Exhibit floor.

 

Jenny and Charlie helped Dory gather shells and created a pathway of shells leading from the open water all the way up to their quaint little home. “Hey look, shells! Hey look, shells! Hey look, shells!” young Dory would say, as she moved from shell to shell along the pathway home.

 

One night, though, Dory overheard her mother crying, and left home to retrieve a purple shell, her mother’s favorite, in order to cheer her up. As young Dory struggled with the shell, she was swept away by the undertow, out of the exhibit, through the Marine Life Institute pipes, and out into the open ocean, where she wandered, looking for her parents, then trying to remember what she was looking for until she ran into Marlin and began searching for Nemo along with him.

 

Knowing who she is, and where she is from… at least for that moment… Dory heads to the Open Life Exhibit with Hank. She gives Hank her tag, and he drops her into the exhibit. When she enters the exhibit, she swims down to the bottom and finds shells. “Hey look, shells!” Dory follows the pathway of shells all the way back to her quaint little home, but finds it empty. Her parents are gone.

 

She asks some other fish swimming by if they have seen any fish that look like her, and she learns that all of the regal blue tangs from the Open Ocean Exhibit have been tagged, and taken to Quarantine, with the intent of being permanently moved to Cleveland.

 

So, Dory enters the Marine Life Institute pipes once again, and with the help of her old pal Destiny, the near sighted whale-shark, and Baily, the beluga whale who thinks his echolocation technology is out of order, she begins to navigate her way through the pipes and back to Quarantine. Along the way, she runs into Marlin and Nemo.

 

Together, the three of them, make it to Quarantine, where Hank the Septopus scoops them up in a coffee kettle, and drops them into the tank with the rest of the royal blue tangs. Ahh… home at last, reunited with her parents… or so it seems. In the tank, Dory discovers that her parents swam through the pipes years ago, and into the ocean to try to find her, but never came back.

 

The film takes on a somber note. Dory realizes that her parents are likely dead. Hank retrieves Dory, accidentally leaving Marlin and Nemo behind, and when he is apprehended by one of the Marine Life Institute employees, he drops Dory into a drain, and flushes her into the ocean.

 

Sad music plays in the background, the screen is dark, and Dory slowly swims along the ocean floor. “Hey look,” Dory says, sort of uninterested, “shells.”

 

Then Dory looks up and sees a pathway of shells. Then the screen pans out, and we see all of these glowing white shells going out as far as the eye can see in every direction, and a quaint little home sitting at the top of the hill where all of these pathways find their end. Dory races to the house, “Just keep swimming,” but her parents aren’t there, instead, they are coming up a different path, with their arms full of more shells. They embrace. It’s beautiful. You can feel the love.

 

Jenny and Charlie explain that when Dory left, they too swam through the pipes, and located themselves just outside of the Marine Life Institute… just right out there on the edge… and began building pathways of shells in every direction because they knew Dory would find her way home. They knew Dory would find them.

 

Finding Israel

In addition to this story, we have these lines from the prophet Isaiah, these great and joyous lines, about remembering, and returning, about redeeming, and rebuilding. “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel”, “Return to me, for I have redeemed you”, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited, and the cities of Judah shall be rebuilt.”

 

The people of Israel, defeated and destroyed had been sent to live in a foreign land where they wondered aloud, “What does it mean, to be the people of God, in this new place? How can we sing the songs of Jerusalem, by the waters of Babylon?”

 

They cried out. They struggled. Some of them forgot who they were as the years passed, as new generations were born who had no idea what Jerusalem was or even where. But others of them remembered, and clung to that memory as if the deep, abiding memory of home was their very source of salvation and redemption.

 

And then, news broke from the mouth of the prophet, news about remembering, returning, redeeming, and rebuilding. And as if they had been swept up in the current of the great stingray migration, they headed home. And you can almost hear them, as bands of Israelites made their way across the desert. You can almost hear them singing their song together:

 

“O, we’re going home.

Sweeping to and fro,

Our hearts know where to go.

Beating like a trumpet sends us

back to where we’re from

O, we’re going home.

We know who we are ,

and its time to travel far.

Days and nights we roam,

to make our way back home.

O, we’re going home!”

 

And you can almost imagine the screen panning back as the people of God saw the city on the hill. You can almost imagine them noticing the thousands of pathways of seashells spreading out before them each leading to this home located right out there on the edge of existence as they knew it. Each returning to the source. To the center. To the fountain of life, and love. To this place of Divine Union, where the soul is one with itself, within the very heart of God.

 

Re-membering

The amazing thing about Dory’s moment of union with love after all those years, and all that searching, is what that moment compelled her to do. Almost immediately, Dory said to Jenny and Charlie, “We have to find Marlin and Nemo.”

 

So, these three regal blue tangs took off, out into the ocean, along with a near-sighted whale-shark, a broke down beluga whale, and cooky bird named Becky to find their friends who were heading down the freeway in the back of an 18-wheeler bound for Cleveland.

 

With the help of some super cute otters, a swift hijacking, and then some smooth driving by Hank the Septopus, the 18 wheeler turned around, dove across the median, flipped upside down, and sent fish of every creed and color flying back into the ocean in slow motion, as Louis Armstrong sang, “What a Wonderful World.”

 

It’s a powerful image. An image of what it means for a forgetful fish to re-member.

 

The thing about remembering is that it literally means re-membering. It means bringing together again. When Dory finally made it home, and experienced the loving union that she longed for so deeply, that she had consciously and subconsciously searched for her whole life, she couldn’t stop there. She found her family, only to find that her family had grown.

 

Regal blue tangs, and clown fish, and turtles, and seven legged octopuses, and beluga whales, and whale sharks, and cooky birds, and otters, all belonged together. Somehow they were all family.

 

And that, brothers and sisters, is the story of our gospel. Remembering, returning, redeeming, rebuilding. Wading deep down, in the waters of love, so deeply that our seashell pathway leads us to find union with God only to re-emerge and bring the rest of our newfound family along.

 

Truly, without memory, without re-membering, our existence would be “barren and opaque,” as Wiesel suggested. But, brothers and sisters, we have hope, for deep down beneath the surface, the source of love has relocated to the edge of existence as we know it, where God is constructing pathways of seashells in every direction that all intend to lead us back home.

 

Let us not forget. Let us re-member. Amen.

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