I adore the stark simplicity of these lines from Gavin Clark’s song ‘Never Seen The Sea’: “You were born by the river / But you've never seen the sea”
A dozen words to sum up a life. In comparing the bodies of water - one narrow and circuitous, cautiously winding its way - and the other wide and expansive, speaking of endless possibility - Gavin Clark sketches the tragic comedy of a small town life. The contrast between the familiar river and the unknown sea speak to me of roads not taken and opportunities missed. All rivers might lead to the sea, but this life hasn’t ever got there. It has stayed on the banks, never venturing far enough to catch a glimpse of the ocean.
These dozen words describe a life of quiet desperation - a life fenced in by a river on one side and diminished expectations on the other. “You lived your whole life / but you never saw the sea”. There’s a sad irony to living on a small island and yet never seeing the sea, not even for a moment, implying a confined existence. In a few words it captures a life with literally shrunken horizons.
I read Psalm 130 today as a psalm of quiet desperation, of a small confined voice crying out for something more. Many of us experience parts of our lives, even long stretches of our lives, feeling trapped, stuck, buried, inert. Many of us have, so to speak, grown up by the river - and watched as others have changed and grown, but feel stuck in an eddy ourselves - never reaching the sea. Instead we feel the quiet desperation of the psalmist. Some of us may feel trapped geographically, hemmed in physically never straying far. For others it might be more psychological or emotional. But as it says in Psalm 130, our hope is in the steadfast love of the Lord.
Some of us live our whole lives
without ever seeing the sea
but we take comfort in the fact
that you stand on that distant shore
ready to introduce us to the waves.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.