IVP - Strangely Dim - Deep Calls to Deep All Over the Place

April 15, 2005

Deep Calls to Deep All Over the Place

By David A. Zimmerman

I catch a lot of grief for a suggestion I made once, in a meeting that was supposedly a free-flowing brainstorming session, for the title of a book: Deep Calling Deep.

You're probably having the same reaction my colleagues had: "What in the world is that supposed to mean?"

Well, I could be a jerk and say, "If I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't understand." Or I could be an even bigger jerk and say, "What? Don't you read your Bible? It's from Psalm 42, you moron!" But that would just be deflecting the question, because I actually don't know what it's supposed to mean.

Nevertheless, I'm seeing the phrase all over the place these days. I first started hearing it in song lyrics in the mid-1990s, but lately I've seen it featured prominently by books and magazines and websites. It's probably on a t-shirt or necktie somewhere too. It may be too early to tell, but I think it's in the running to become the theme verse of the emergent church.

Lots of people have theme verses, some biblical phrase that has proven particularly meaningful or inspirational to them. Ministries tend to have a particular passage of Scripture in mind when they organize, and that passage becomes their institutional theme verse. But as those organizations will tell you, an important ingredient of a theme verse is intelligibility: ideally, you know what you're saying to the world.

I've been told that The Wittenburg Door, a satirical magazine about American Christianity, picked for its theme verse 1 Chronicles 26:18: "At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar." But even picking a verse so arbitrarily makes a statement: "Theme verses are for chumps."

So, to redeem myself among my colleagues and to support the theme-verse-challenged among us, I welcome any and all insight into what "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls" means, and more specifically, what it would mean for someone wearing it on a t-shirt. I do like the rhythm of it, and it could well be a fine theme verse, perhaps followed immediately by something like "It's an emergent thing, you wouldn't understand."

Meanwhile, if I were to give myself a theme verse, I think it would have to be one that is not so much inspirational as descriptive. I can aspire to all sorts of things, but ultimately I am anchored by the reality of who I fundamentally am, complete with all my failings and foibles.

I actually have a verse in mind, and it just so happens to come straight from the mouth of my namesake, King David, in 2 Samuel 6:

"I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes."


Don't think that's a good theme verse? Check out the streaming video at ivpress.com. I'm sure you'll see the sense of it.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at April 15, 2005 10:16 AM Bookmark and Share


My life verse is 2 Kings 2:24.

Comment by: Peter Hypki at April 15, 2005 10:43 AM

Peter, you are truly messed up.


Comment by: Dave at April 15, 2005 10:45 AM

For the moment, my theme verse is Exodus 3.14 -- because I'm so self-centered!

Comment by: Dan Webster at April 15, 2005 11:21 AM

James 1:19 says it all.

Comment by: bill at April 15, 2005 12:10 PM

just steer clear of verses on castigation and circumcision.

i'm just sayin'.

Comment by: rick at April 15, 2005 5:36 PM

Oh, yay! A chance to analyze literary symbolism! :-D

I always assumed the "deep calls to deep" passage referred to the vastness of the watery depths of the river. Now that I'm actually paying attention to the verse, though, I think that it means something more like "the depths of God call out to the depths of my soul" and vice versa. This would fit with the psalm's theme of craving God. It would make a very cool t-shirt!

As for my theme verse, this semester, it's Luke 10:42. I wrote a sestina centered around it a couple of days ago for my poetry class. :-)

Comment by: Bethany at April 15, 2005 11:44 PM

You're deep, Dave. Have I ever told you that you have a beautiful mind?

Comment by: Drew at April 19, 2005 5:25 PM

Read the entire Psalm and you will see that it is not a positive verse. There is menacing trouble facing the Psalmist as expressed in the power and volume of the waterfall, the waves (or perhaps current), and what some would say sould be translated a waterspout. It talks about the depth of oppression as does the verse in Job that parallels this verse when Job is in the belly of the great fish.

Comment by: Dr. Dan at May 5, 2008 1:46 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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