Posts Tagged ‘survival’

I recently read The Old Man and the Sea and am glad for many reasons. First, I am certain the last time I read it was high school as an assignment with a test afterward. All stories are better without a test afterward.

I like how Ernest Hemmingway is able to convince readers of relationship with just a few words. Santiago, the old fisherman, has a relationship with the boy, with the sea, with the bird at sea, with the marlin. I like the way Joe DiMaggio is written into the story. And DiMaggio’s father. Who knew the father of the great DiMaggio was a fisherman? I am sure the Yankees would love to have more fans like Santiago.

I like the images in the story that one might expect a preacher to like. I am fascinated that Santiago is at sea for three days and nights. I am fascinated that Santiago “shouldered the mast and started to climb… at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder.” I am fascinated when I read that Santiago felt “the nail go through his hands and into the wood.”

I like the explicit spiritual discussion Santiago holds with himself. “I am not religious… But I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre is I catch him. That is a promise.” I enjoy the brief discussion about sin.

But mostly I enjoy the adventure of the story. I enjoy the backstory that helps us realize Santiago’s tenacious spirit. He once won a 24 hour arm wrestling match in the tavern at Casablanca before he was an old man. I enjoy that he shows a similar tenacity throughout the book. This is a survival story. Battling exhaustion, hunger, and thirst, Santiago is making decisions that really matter. He is constantly adapting to the next danger with a new plan. He is living on bare essentials, with what he was carrying with him when he left for fishing. He is well aware of his surroundings, even the stars and the winds. Santiago is able to catch, gut, and eat a fish all while he is fighting the giant marlin.

Many have considered Old Man to be fable like, symbolic, or allegorical. I suppose it is possible. However, we want to at least consider Hemmingway’s own words to critic Bernard Berenson on September 13, 1952. “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse.”

In Old Man, Hemmingway introduces us to an old down on his luck fisherman. And he takes us on a voyage into the soul of a man that is disguised as a routine fishing trip. Whatever the meaning, I am very glad to spend these three days and night with Santiago.


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We spend a significant amount of time devising strategies to help ourselves survive the wilderness. Perhaps that is what Exodus has in mind when we are introduced to Sabbath. A day we do not work and yet still receive. Exodus is asking “Do you think you are surviving out here on your own?” Exodus gives us Sabbath and then adds “Go ahead, take a day to rest and when you are still provided for you will know this was not by your own doing.”

Sabbath becomes increasingly important as Pharaoh increases his efforts to control us. Pharaoh and his scheduling issues offer no rest. God gives something different – Sabbath. It is counter to Pharaoh. It is a rebellious move. Sabbath is admission that we are not in control and neither is Pharaoh. Even as we rest, God continues to take care of us. This goes against any worldview that we control our own destiny.

Like Hebrews looking for manna on the seventh day, we challenge God for control. We convince ourselves for six days that we are surviving on our own. In contrast, Sabbath is a gift to remind us we cannot deliver ourselves; not from hunger, thirst, or slavery.

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In Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, I have this to say about the wilderness. “We recognize our dependence and recognize that we are not enough on our own.” I stand by that statement after spending significant time in the Exodus narrative. I am convinced that Exodus wants us to be aware of where we are. Early on, it takes us to Egyptian slave camp. Then it takes us straight through the Red Sea. By the time we get to chapter 16, we are dropped off in the wilderness where we are quickly reminded that “we are not enough on our own.”

Wilderness may not imply the same thing each time we find it in the bible, but it does not likely keep showing up by accident. In contrast, we seem to spend much time convincing ourselves we can avoid the wilderness. Still, Exodus insists on taking us there and making us aware that “we are not enough on our own.” Our best attempts at survival fall short and we must depend on something other than ourselves.

In the wilderness our situation is bleak. Think about it, us against the wilderness, us against hunger, us against thirst, us against an opposing army, us against the elements. The odds are not in our favor. Exodus is clear; we cannot survive on our own. Yet, there is more to the story, we are not on our own.

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