OCEAN CURRENTS MOVED MY LIFE from an early age. We moved to Pocomoke City, Maryland when I was ten years old. Christmas that year was as warm as an early summer day. Pocomoke is almost exactly halfway between the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west. The Gulfstream current is a major weather-maker here. Warm water from the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico rides the offshore current all the way up the Eastern Seaboard, crossing the ocean somewhere south of Nova Scotia. The winds carry this warmth onshore, moderating the climate and blending the seasons. But the current slowly turns, meanders, and gyres constantly, moving toward the coast or heading out to sea. A handful of miles one way or the other can mean an inland temperature drop or climb of several degrees.
All the surface currents of the world’s oceans are generated by the constant force of the winds that blow ceaselessly across the face of the planet. These currents reach on average 500 to 1000 feet below the surface. This is considered shallow water.
The Gulf Stream, like all surface currents, is a river on its own in the vast sea. Within the stream, warm water moves from the tropics toward the North Atlantic about 3 – 4 miles an hour. Finding yourself in the midst of this river, without landmarks, you could scarcely distinguish your movement from random drifting. Yet you would not be without direction. Given time and sustenance you could ride the current from Florida up the East Coast, cross the North Atlantic, and then find yourself on the west coast of Ireland. I have presently, and periodically in the past, found myself in a place in life that seems a lot like this. Seemingly drifting, having lost sight of the shore of my previous landfall, with no landmarks in sight, but with the expectation, if not the feeling, that I am making headway toward some distant coast or island. I find this both exhilarating and disconcerting. Moving through empty ocean toward some unseen horizon.
“PROVIDENCE IS A DOCTRINE BEST UNDERSTOOD IN RETROSPECT”, my doctoral supervisor in seminary once told me. I often deliberate to excess about every decision I make and every action I take, but I did not arrive where I am in life solely by careful deliberation. Time and chance happen to every man (Ecclesiastes 9:11), and, might I add, current and drift. This or that journey was chosen, and I made careful plans. But nothing is ever simply a matter of human decision and will. I do not believe in fate, yet our destiny is not shaped by our hands alone. Life is a gathering of responses to invitations. Whether we will go and what we bring is up to us. Why do we end up where we end up? Adventure and accident. Sail forth and things happen. The tide and the winds take us where they will. An awareness of current and a sense of direction may accompany us, yet we may only know the meaning of the journey when we reach our destination.