Last Sunday when I went to church with some friends, the sermon happened to be about sin. The pastor was introducing a four-week series about how often sin exists in our lives without us being fully aware of it, and he explained how unexpectedly sin can reveal itself and how surprisingly powerful it can be.
He transitioned into an anecdote, and he mentioned that he loves to watch nature/animal documentaries on Netflix. Not knowing where this was going but excited to be thinking about animals, I smiled along. Then he started in on a time he was watching a documentary on humpback whales, and he accompanied what I expected to be a cheerful story with a cute picture of a mama humpback and its baby. However, this is where the story took a surprising turn for the worst.
The pastor continued his tale with how he watched as a pod of killer whales caught sight of the baby humpback and decided to make it their target. He described in detail how they “rammed their bodies into its side repeatedly then swam above it so that it would be forced away from the air and would therefore suffocate.” By this time, my jaw had taken up permanent residence on the ground, and my eyes were approximately the size of the ocean in which this horrific scene took place.
I sat there in a state of unease for the next half hour as I continued to work to translate the message of the sermon. I nodded my head along to his conclusions that the killer whales represented sin and how sin’s presence can lead you to feel hopeless and scared.
I was sort of surprised by this lesson. I am not a regular member of any church, but I had grown used to the idea of leaving a sermon with a brighter, lighter spirit than I had when I entered. This darker experience of interpreting words from the Bible was new to me, and I was uncomfortable with how to handle it.
With about 15 minutes left until the scheduled time to finish, the pastor returned to his story of the whales. This time, he offered its ending.
When the mama humpback realized her baby was in jeopardy, she swam under him so that her weight kept him from sinking. She waited while the killer whales tired themselves out with their offensive efforts, and then she lifted her baby to the surface to enjoy a breath of the sacred air.
I can’t recall if the pastor explicitly explained the parallels between the whales and religion, but the message was received: the mama humpback was faith, and she was saving the baby from sin.
Although I am not a particularly religious person, I do enjoy attending church services and learning about various spiritual beliefs. Additionally, I love the hope and security that the church emulates, which is why I return to church time and time again, despite having minimal personal history with the text. I don’t have memories of vocation Bible school or of learning to pray, but I am not blind to the powerful role religion plays in our world.
As of now, I cannot promise that I will commit myself fully to God or any other omnipotent power, but I can promise to work as hard as I can to find my mama humpback, my source of strength to push me towards the light during dark times. One of my goals in life is to find something to hold onto so tightly that it becomes a part of me and remains burning brightly within my heart even when I am up against forces aiming to extinguish my flame. Religion is one source of power, but it is not the only source. Of the roughly 7 billion people on the Earth, at least 1 billion consider themselves atheists, yet many of them are capable of persevering though tough times. What is their mama humpback? What is mine? What is yours?