As I was lying in bed the other night, on my way to falling asleep, somewhere between semi-conscious thought and dream I saw a scene in my mind’s eye of a pearl diver.
What was apparent to me was that the depth at which the diver had swum was at the utter limit of his reach, experience and breath.
In this scene, at the very edge of the diver’s limit, just inches beyond, lay the perfect pearl – the parabolic “pearl of greatest price” (Matt 13:45-46).
In order to reach the pearl the diver would have to go beyond the limit of his breath, beyond the limit of his experience, and risk blacking out, or even dying if he was to possess the pearl.
It was in going beyond his limits that the pearl was possessed. The diver took the pearl and ascended back towards the light of day and the fresh air above the water’s surface.
As I reflected on this scene in the following days I was aware of how much of what I do, and what I believe is possible, comes from my experience as a human being bound by the physical laws of this universe.
But there are so many things – too many things – in our lives which simply don’t fit the categories of physical natural laws.
But then that is consistent with the truth that the material universe is not all there is and physical laws aren’t the only laws even if they are the most prevalent and dominant in our day-to-day reality.
As I reflected more deeply I was drawn to the necessity of breath for life and how for the pearl diver his last breath was always potentially his final one, and yet his last breath was like a doorway either to the next breath and life as normal, or a doorway which leads to death itself.
The pearl diver was bound to his last breath for everything he was hoping to achieve. Surviving on that last breath alone was for him the difference between finding his pearl and returning or exhausting it and dying.
But what if he decided to go further? What if he decided to go beyond his last breath and the outcome wasn’t death but more life? The fear of his last breath running out would prevent him from ever finding out if there was life beyond that last breath, and whether a final breath of one kind could be the beginning of another kind of breath.
So the pearl plays its part, because it’s only in the pursuit of the pearl that the diver will risk everything on his last breath. The invitation to live beyond his life-limit comes in the form of the pearl of greatest price.
To possess the pearl he must risk everything.
In risking everything he possesses the pearl.
The gospel writer notes that on the cross Jesus drew his final breath, and then he died (Mark 15:37). He wrote this so that we know that Jesus had died. This is important because unless he has died then the fact that he is alive again on the 3rd day isn’t resurrection but some form of resuscitation.
In John’s gospel he writes about Jesus coming to his disciples after his resurrection. Jesus breathes on his disciples and says to them, “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
Having previously taken his last and final breath, Jesus is now breathing on his disciples with a new kind of breath; a breath that transfers to them the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Whether there is a literal transfer or not, the image of Jesus breathing is intentional. The presence of GOD ‘in’ us by His Holy Spirit is like our own breath. Our breath is so close to us; it’s in us; it permeates into our entire being and transfers in and out of us, energising the body and keeping it alive. So it is with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had to breathe his last breath and risk everything on that last breath to know for sure that there was a different life beyond; one where he would go on breathing but in a completely new way.
But the last breath isn’t necessarily the final one; it’s just the last one. Every day we have the choice to take our last breath in all manner of circumstances or situations. Whenever we feel that we are reaching our limit and the thing we know we need and are reaching for is just inches beyond that limit, in that moment we have to choose whether we will risk everything on that last breath and discover the life beyond, or whether we’ll give in to fear and pull back to the surface.
This is the life of faith because you simply cannot know until you are in that beyond-place. Faith turns our beliefs into actions that take us beyond our limits.
I believe I saw that dreamlike scene so that I would recognise that I too need to risk everything on that last breath to discover that I can breath beyond it, and in doing so I too can possess the pearl of greatest price.
This is a reflective poem I wrote to try and capture some of the soul of what I saw and to creatively reflect it back to GOD as a creative gift of insight, love and life.
The Pearl Diver
Down into the deep
The pearl diver descends.
Like a stone pillar he drops
Through fathoms vertically,
Searching for the pearl;
The one of greatest price.
In the deepest depths,
Where even light
Is crushed to darkness,
His life reaches its limit;
His last breath exhausted,
His mind and body
Saturated by toxic spent air.
It’s only when his limit reached
And blackness covers his
Consciousness, as the deep,
And death’s cloak begins
To shroud and coldly grip,
That he will find his pearl,
Just out of reach. But,
Pushing through and dying
To that fear in full surrender
Will extend his fingers – just –
To grasp the pearl and draw
It heavenwards; letting go
In buoyant ascendency
Until the light appears,
And deep returns to shallow.
Where once he had, since,
Breathed his last he now
Can breathe once more.
But now his breath is freer
And his life aliver still,
For he found his pearl and
With it found his life;
The one that lived beyond
That final breath and hid
Deep below with that
Seasoned pearl, worn round
In perfect grace-filled suffering:
His pearl of greatest price.