Here we are back in those long ago revolutionary and now romantic 1970s. It’s morning in the city, the silence of early Sunday morning hours. It’s about 8:45 and I have just come away from Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver altar after the early morning Eucharist. I take off the vestments, pick up a Bible and a prayer book and stole and get into the car. Down towards the harbour, east along dockside streets, left across the railway tracks, and I arrived.
They are waiting for me, about thirty of them. They are all considerably younger than I. Because of the tide the deck of the ship is below the level of the dock. She’s a twenty-year-old former North Sea trawler. The captain, Paul, introduces me around, then leads down the gangway. Arriving at the rear deck we form a circle.
In the next few minutes, we will express some simple things. I ask Paul as Captain to read some verses of the first chapter of Genesis, the great and majestic song of Creation, with its magnificent - even more, its majestic and timeless - cadences. I had deliberately brought with me the King James Version, a translation into the glorious language of 1611. Putting it mildly, it suited the drama of this moment.
"In the Beginning God Created the Heaven and the Earth,
And the earth was without form and void,
and darkness was on the face of the deep,
And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, and it was good. "
Here Paul paused and I realized with a thrill that in choosing him as a reader I had found a magnificent one, sensitive to the glorious prose he was reading. He paused, creating a sense of anticipation, then declared:
"And God saw the light, that it was good:
And God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day,
And the darkness God called Night."
In our small human circle, all eyes were on Paul, all still and focused, many I assumed hearing the timeless words for the first time. In the silence imposed by his reading I became aware of the sounds of the waking harbour. Then the voice of Paul...
“And the Evening and the Morning were the First Day."
Whenever I hear the opening verses of the Bible being read, I am taken back to that morning in Burrard Inlet. Remembering from primary school in Ireland I recall that the only creature that is actually named in that passage from the morning of the world is that of the Great Whale. I mention this to you because I was aware that these young men and women had made an absolute commitment to protect that splendid creature from the international fleets that pursued it remorselessly. They knew that such a commitment could demand their lives. That was why I had deliberately brought with me a pocket-sized version of the Authorized Version of the Bible.
We say two prayers that express thanks and ask God that humanity may develop a greater sense of responsibility for the created order. Then the young men and women exchange a handshake or an embrace of Peace. I give a simple blessing, one that includes a Biblical image of a great whale moving through the waters, surrounded by ships.
Paul told me they would be leaving that evening, giving me an approximate time. I made a point of being there, this time joining a supportive crowd that had gathered to say farewell. We waved as she headed out underneath the Lions' Gate Bridge, the sunset, and the open ocean. I silently said the words of Psalm 104: verses 25+.
"O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy creatures.
So is the great and wide sea also, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
There go the ships: and there is that Leviathan, who Thou hast formed to take his pastime therein."
They had captured my imagination as a choirboy of eight. They retain their magic to this day.