Swimming with Sharks

All eyes were on me, willing me to jump. The perception of danger was palpable enough that several people took out their cell phones, ready to record if the blue waters turned crimson. My pulse raced as I looked down to the dark shadows rocketing through the waters below me. As I stood on the Ragga King’s starboard plank I breathed in the irresistible splendor of Belize’s Barrier Reef and the suffocating reality of her greatest predators swirling beneath my feet.

In 2014, while in Belize, I had been invited to join a ‘Swim with Sharks’ tour. Unable to pass on the adventure, I joined twenty other passengers who had paid $135 a person to join the two-hour escapade.  The invigorating sea breeze, Calypso music and Jamaican rum made the thirty-minute sail to the dive site serene. But as we slowed to a stop in the shallow waters of reef, the festive mood dramatically bowed melancholic.

Accentuated by the white sands just six-feet under the boat, several charcoal colored nurse sharks and stingrays frenzied through the waters, waiting for the expected daily meal that the Ragga King provided. Once anchored, the Jamaican captain chuckled, “Dem sharks sure look hungry todeh.” No one on the boat moved. The captain turned to me and said, “Come on, big mon. Show dem ow it’s dun.”

I moved my hefty body to the plank and breathed deep. I came here to dive and that was what I was going to do. As I cautiously moved toward the edge of the boat I saw movement below. My brain screamed “stop” while my body said, “gravity is a scientific reality.” I stepped off the plank.  The exact moment I began to fall, a seven-foot nurse shark swam lazily under the boat into the path of my rapidly descending mass.

A small scream of alarm from one of the passengers was the last thing I heard as I landed. I froze when I realized my head remained above water. I had landed on and pinned the monster onto the reef bed and my feet were straddling its dorsal fin.

For seconds the world remained motionless. The shark stiffened in shock. I saw the panicked faces on the passengers looking down on me from the deck. I heard their thoughts: “Goodbye you big, brave, foolish man.”  I wondered if it was true that sharks attack when they smell urine. But the funniest face was the sickly delighted captain’s. This was a first for him.

With one great swoosh of its muscled body the shark tossed me off its back as it whooshed away. Another few seconds of silence were finally broken by the captain. “Hey mon. Don’t be fraid. Dat shark is wid his famly now sayin’ ‘My back! My back! Wat landed on ma back?” The passengers erupted with laughter.  Over the next half an hour most of them dived in, enjoying their own water adventure with the sharks and stingrays.

In The Weight of Glory C.S. Lewis wrote, “this is my endlessly recurrent temptation: to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim nor float, but only to dabble and splash, careful not to get out of my depth and holding on to the lifeline which connects me with my things temporal.”

Those who seek the Creator are not called to splash around in the shallow waters of spirituality. We are invited to dive into the deep waters of God. But to dive into those waters requires desire, discipline and the knowledge that we must enter a kingdom different than the one we have been born into.  The act of diving is not about doing something but simply letting go to enter something new.

The waters may seem dangerous but nothing compares to the wonders of the deep.