The Ten Commandments of the Sea

by Peter Kreeft


Professor Peter Kreeft joined the Boston College philosophy faculty in 1965 and is the author of more than seventy books. He is a widely sought-after speaker on Catholic apologetics, and he specializes in the philosophy of religion as well as the thought of C.S. Lewis. The following piece is excerpted from his book, I Surf, Therefore I Am.


Surfing is not an organized religion; it’s more like a disorganized religion. But it’s not so disorganized that it has no commandments. In fact, it has ten, and they are very similar to the ten you already know from Moses (or rather from God through Moses):

  1. Have no gods before Me.
  2. Make no graven images.
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. Do not kill.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not lie.
  10. Do not covet.


The sea teaches us these commandments too, in its own way:


1. Surrender to the Creator of the sea. Know your weakness by knowing the sea’s power. Know your ignorance by knowing the sea’s mystery. Know your smallness by knowing the sea’s greatness. Remember the prayer of the Normandy sailor: “O Lord, my board is so small and Your sea is so big.” (Keep it short and simple like that.) The sea is the biggest thing we can see on earth. It is thus a natural icon for God’s greatness, and, correlatively, for our smallness and for the wisdom of humility.


2. Do not worship even the biggest, most beautiful thing on earth, the sea. Only God is God. Do not confuse the finite with the Infinite.


And do not look to the sea instead of God for morality. It kills. It steals. It deceives. It dishonors. It will wash away your sorrows, and it will wash away your shallowness, but it will not wash away your sins.


3. Listen to the sea. It will teach you to listen more and to speak less. It will teach you not to take names in vain.


Listen to the sea so that you can learn to listen better. Learn to listen better so that you can listen to God. Listen to God so that you can listen to other people. Listen to other people so that you can know yourself. “Know thyself” by listening to the sea.


4. Let the sea teach you to forget time and to just be. Let it teach you that there is never any good reason to rush until Grandma falls into the deep end of the swimming pool. Until then let the sea teach you to celebrate Sabbaths. “Near the sea, we forget to count the days.”


5. Honor your ancestors’ honor of the sea, and their honor of all nature. They saw nature as the cathedral given to you by your Creator, loaded with icons like the sea to remind you to surrender to Him. They honored nature; they didn’t try to conquer her. Don’t try to conquer your mother.


6. Do not kill nature. Do not kill the sea. She is your mother. Take care of your mother. Use your power to save your mother from ugliness-pollution.

Do not kill beauty. Beauty is your soul’s life, your soul’s water. You need beauty more than you need power or wealth or even knowledge. Use power and wealth and knowledge to preserve beauty.


7. Do not adulterate the sea. Preserve her purity, and yours. Do not sell her, or use her. Love her, and all God’s gifts. Use and sell your creations; love and appreciate God’s. Adulterate nothing; treat everything as what it is.


8. Do not steal; be grateful for what you have. God has given you the world’s best and biggest toy: the sea. Play in it. Let it teach you cosmic gratitude for the whole ocean of being, which contains so many fish. Gratitude is the clearest hallmark of wisdom.


9. Do not lie. Be what you are. Be as sincere as sea water. Rehearse for eternity: be simple. Be.


10. Do not believe the lies of covetousness, or greed, or lust. Do not believe our culture’s pervasive superstition that you can solve every problem by doing something about it. The sea is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be enjoyed. The sea is like life that way. It is also like life in that it possesses nothing but gives all things, gives all life-forms. Be like the sea: be a giver, not a grabber.


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