This past Memorial Day, my parents took our family of five on a cruise to the Bahamas.
We embarked on this short trip primarily for the purpose of revisiting a unique dolphin encounter four years ago. We figured the added maturity would help usher this experience into my kids’ pantheon of favorite childhood memories.
I’m not a dolphin guy, having had them barge in and destroy my fishing trips. But something set these dolphins apart from their stateside counterparts: freedom and flourishing.
Now would they use those same terms? Perhaps not, but then again, actions speak louder than words, squeaks or clicks.
Collectively they illustrate a helpful and counter-cultural model of freedom and flourishing.
The Unexso Company of Grand Bahama owns and operates their dolphin facility in a cove nestled at the end of a capacious canal appropriately called “Sanctuary Bay.” These dolphins can arrive on time for their performances, or they could choose to head out to sea to play, hunt or mate.
Yet they always chose the former.
Several years go, Unexso upgraded them to an underwater “gated community” perhaps to keep sharks out and fish in. However, dolphins could easily jump the gate and fast track it to freedom on the open seas.
So what keeps them around? Perhaps they relish the all-you-can-eat-sardines, dolphin fellowship and even potential mates. Why leave when they can flourish in Sanctuary Bay?
During our private tour with Robala, the trainer informed us that wild dolphins live on average 15-18 years. However, Robala and several others weren’t slowing down at almost 40 years of age.
Without the threat — and I’d imagine the stress — of dodging sharks, these dolphins lived more than twice the national average.
This particular visit revealed another reason why these dolphins stick around the Sanctuary instead of heading out to sea: unique relationships. They develop bonds with the trainers and want to play even when the trainers have no fish to offer.
In every sense of the word, these dolphins uniquely flourish within the confines of this cove. Every generation and culture arrives at its own definitions of freedom and flourishing.
In our cultural moment, freedom remains tantamount to the absence of restraints, because any restrictions can restrict flourishing. Even though no society or even individual can actually live this out, this definition rules the day.
Some thinkers have taken a page out of the playbooks of these dolphins, positing that freedom and flourishing occur not in the absence of all restraints, but in the presence of the right ones.
The writer of Isaiah 55 reminds me of what happens in the Bahamian Sanctuary Bay: “Why buy food that costs and doesn’t satisfy, when food that God offers is free and satisfying.”
And apropos to our own experience, the most common command in the bible is “Do not fear.” Because Jesus has offered to take the place of all who believe on the cross, we have no need to fear the sharks, or even the reaper.
And in Him, we can have a relationship with God’s community, but also with a trainer who cared so much it cost Him his life. We have a unique trainer who not only commands and cares, but provides what he prescribes.
Living within the cove of God’s grace, we can begin to see how even His hard commands actually restrict for the purpose of our flourishing. Why leave for the open seas when real freedom and flouring happens in the truer Sanctuary Bay.
Contact Pastor Geoff Henderson at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @theapostleGH. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.