The Lees of My Better Being

Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself near the door, and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance. This savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could not read, and, therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall. Whether any of the relatives of the seamen whose names appeared there were now among the congregation, I knew not; but so many are the unrecorded accidents in the fishery, and so plainly did several women present wear the countenance if not the trappings of some unceasing grief, that I feel sure that here before me were assembled those, in whose unhealing hearts the sight of those bleak tablets sympathetically caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.

Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in those black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in those immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished without a grave.  As well might those tablets stand in the cave of Elephanta as here.

In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included; why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands! how it is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle him if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; why the Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon immortals; in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.

But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from those dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.

It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on that eve of a Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who had gone before me. Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine.  But somehow I grew merry within.  Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems—aye, a stove boat will make me an immortal by brevet.  Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity.  But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.  Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.  Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.  Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being.  In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.  And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.  – Moby Dick, Chapter VII

I love this chapter so much that I cannot seem to get any further into the book.  Every time I go to continue, I find myself simply rereading.  There is so much to take from this, so much to tuck away.   Try and wrap your mind around the thought—what is your soul? At my shallow points I tend to think of it as some kind of mist that rises up out of my throat when I die, like this weird, gaseous vapour founded in a dark crevice of my blood-pumping heart.  But no.  When I plunge deeper into the thought, I see a soul as an everlasting being, who knows whether it has substance or not?  My soul is the glory of God.  My soul is part of the image of God.  My soul is not in fact mine, it is a piece of a light that is scattered over the world.

I wake up in the morning, sometimes tired, and groaning to the Lord saying, “I don’t want to die today! I don’t want to die.”  Physical death? Death that would free my soul that is pounding and yearning to be freed—death that would “bundle me into eternity”? Death that would release me from the sin and misery and weariness of this world and unite me with Christ?  That death I would gladly accept and enter into.  (To clarify, I would also gladly live, and be alive to God in Christ Jesus, if that is his will for me.)  No, the death that I am so reluctant to die is the mortifying-kind of death that I spoke of in my last post.  It aches to die.  How can you explain, too, that it is not a kind of death that comes and you can’t do anything about it! You give up your dearest thoughts, you put yourself to death with the knowledge that you are mortifying sin, sacrificing all your plans and dreams and aspirations for Christ.   And every day.  Every hour.  Constantly giving up to Christ.  And you do it because you choose to do it.  You choose to let yourself suffer, knowing that it will bring true joy and contentment, and that when you are doing so God is delighting in you, rejoicing over you with loud singing because you are his beloved son or daughter, you are his you are striving to become more like him and what he wants is for you to be sanctified for his glory.  I mortify myself.  I put myself to death, and then—I’m 20 years old.  A ripe age.  I am strong, I am ready-spirited, I am capable of doing things.  So, Lord, what shall I do for you?

I have to admit that sometimes all I want to do is stand on a cold beach in boots and a coat with a red scarf and recite all my favorite book passages to a raging tempest.

Or sit next to some sleeping sheep in a barn on a snowy day and dig my fingers deep into their dirty wool.

But what specifically is my calling?  In worldly terms, I have a lot of ideas as to what I could do, and a lot of opportunities if I wanted to pursue them.  But what is God calling me to do? How does he want me to use his gifts? How can I use this time best and for his glory?

When I do die, I am free to serve him.   When I do die, I free part of that better being, and it rises to him.