The Whole Ocean in a Glass of Water

By Tom Woodley


A husband and wife fly south to Florida for Christmas vacation. The husband's restlessness with his life forces him to ponder God, Christ's birth, and the decisions he's made in life.  Ultimately, he and his wife find profound parallels between the vastness of the ocean, the nature of God, and the person of Christ.


Alan (A middle-aged successful professional, somewhat cynical, but searching for truth.  Prickly, but likeable)
Maggie (Alan’s wife.  A little ditzy, but ultimately wise and practical)


(Scene: A Florida beach, at their vacation time-share.  They have just arrived, and will be spending their two weeks of Christmas holidays there. We hear the sound of the ocean, kids, seagulls, etc.  Alan enters, looking beyond the audience, as if gazing at the ocean in wonder and thought.  He is not satisfied with life. Maggie enters, calling.  She is carrying a glass of water or ice water.]

Maggie:  [Calling, searching]  Alan!  Alan!  Alan?  Oh, Alan, there you are.  I’ve been looking all over for you.

Alan:  [Seems surprised a bit as he starts to come out of his reverie]  What, sorry?

Maggie:  I was starting to get concerned.  Finally it occurred to me that you might have already come out to the beach.

Alan: Yeah, yeah, sorry.  I just wanted to come out here and enjoy it for a few minutes

Maggie: I need you to carry my suitcase up the stairs so I can start unpacking.  You know I always like to get my things organized right away whenever I arrive somewhere new.

Alan:  [Absent-mindedly..]  Sure, sure, problem.  I’ll be in in a few minutes.

Maggie: Thanks. [Looks out at the ocean, and absently takes a sip from her glass of water.  Turns as if to head off scene again, then looks back at Alan and pauses.]  What were you doing out here?

Alan: Not much.  I just felt like coming straight out here to remember the feel of the ocean in my face.  It’s been a year since we were here last, y’know.

Maggie: Yeah.  But the weather is so cool this year.  I don’t ever remember a Christmas in Florida as chilly as this.

Alan:  It could still warm up before the 25th…  But you know me…  It’s always been the ocean itself which brought me down here.  I just never seem to get enough of it.  [Turns his gaze back out to the ocean…]

Maggie:  [Slowly, but without passion.  More passively.]  Yes, it is beautiful.

[They both pause pensively]

Maggie: Oh,..  I brought this glass of water for you.  I was so thirsty when we got off the plane and didn’t have a chance to get a drink of water until now.  I thought you might be thirsty.

[She hands him the glass of water.  He takes it without looking at her or the glass.

Alan: [Absently…does not drink]  Thanks Honey…

[Maggie stops to observe his reverie for a second and then starts to head off scene again.]

Maggie:  I’ll be inside…

Alan:  [Waking up…Speaking loudly, to arrest her attention]  Y’know Maggie, I’ve been thinking…  [pauses]

Maggie: What?

Alan: I’ve been thinking, y’know, about the ocean…  Well, y’know, and I’ve been thinking about, y’know,.. God.

Maggie:  What?  What do you mean?

Alan: It’s like…  I’ve been thinking about how the ocean is like our relationship with God.

Maggie:  [Nodding slowly, thoughtfully]  Yes, yes.  So peaceful, so restful.

Alan: [Loudly, abruptly]  No, no, that’s not what I mean!  And the ocean’s not so peaceful!..  I mean, for all we know, there could be a huge storm raging off the coast of Greenland right now!

Maggie:  [Looking at him strangely, with her nose wrinkled]  Alan…  What are you talking about?

Alan: [Earnestly]  It’s hard to explain, but I’ve been thinking a lot.  It’s like…  We come here to Florida – to the ocean – to spend our Christmas here each year.  And we return home each year saying things like, ‘Wasn’t it great to be at the ocean again…’  And yet, in some ways, we never even experienced it…

Maggie: [Still not following…]  Yeah?..

Alan: I mean…  For instance, some years, you don’t even go in the water.  How can we say that we’re experiencing it?..

Maggie:  [Suspicious of his example]  What are you getting at?

Alan: That was a bad example…  Let me try to explain what I mean… We’re standing at this beach, right?..  We’re looking at the ocean and feeling its breeze, right?  Yet the ocean is so much more…  unimaginably vaster than we could ever imagine as we stand here.

Maggie: [Still not totally catching on…]  Okay?..

Alan: [becoming passionate]  Imagine that right now, at this instant, massive icebergs are crashing into the sea off Antarctica…  And imagine that right now, the monsoons are pounding the coast of Bangladesh, flooding the land for miles inland…  And just think also…  how the ocean harbors creatures so massive and exotic that…

Maggie:  [Interrupting… Excited]  Yeah.  I get it.  It’s like: We enjoy the view from our deck, and we enjoy taking walks up and down this stretch of beach, but what we’re experiencing is not even, like, one tenth of one percent of what the ocean really is.

Alan: That’s it.  And that’s the problem we have with God!

Maggie:  [Perplexed again..]  Now what are you talking about?

Alan: Don’t you see – it’s the same thing!  We get out to church once in a while, but never plan on committing to anything,.. and we try to avoid actually getting to know anyone, least of all God.  …And,.. and of course, the only time we bother to pray is when we’re almost in a car accident. Don’t you see…  It’s all the same thing.  We pretend that we’re giving God a place in our lives, but really, we haven’t even bothered to put our foot in the water...  let alone take a swim, or, God forbid, try and paddle across this ocean …

Maggie: [short pause.]  Ginny told me that my women’s Bible study would be praying for us while we were on holidays.

Alan: [Ignoring Maggie]  I mean, could you imagine talking to someone who has explored the fjords of Scandinavia…   I mean… spiritually speaking.

Maggie:  [Reflecting…]  Hmmm…  That makes me think of Steve Benton – y’know, the guy who started the church sports program for handicapped kids downtown.

Alan:  [Still ignoring Maggie]  Or what about meeting – spiritually speaking – someone who crossed the Atlantic solo in a sailboat.

Maggie: Well, maybe that’s someone like Marisa Gilbert, who was doing Christian aid work in Macedonia when war broke out in Kosovo.

Alan: Or could you imagine standing on a spiritual beach, trying to weather a spiritual hurricane, with winds of 150 km per hour, and the waves 10 meters high…

Maggie:  [Laughs, getting into it…]  That sounds like Elijah!

Alan: And for year after year, somehow we’re just content with our little stretch of spiritual beach – smelling the salty breeze that blows off the ocean.

Maggie: [Not totally in agreement…]  Well?..

Alan: [Interrupts again…]  Year after year we come down here for the Christmas holidays.  And each year I look back on the previous 12 months.  Each year seems harder than the one before it…  and the year ahead always looks so bright.  Yet each Christmas I feel so tired, tired, tired…

Maggie: But Alan, dear, that’s why we come down here each year.  So you can rest and enjoy the ocean.  You always find it so therapeutic…

Alan:  Oh, sometimes I wonder why we come down here.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s not just so we can say that we went to Florida for the holidays – showing that we have the means to do so, hoping others will be jealous of us for having the means.

Maggie: [Distastefully]  Alan!

Alan: No, I mean it Maggie!  Sometimes I feel the only thing that makes me happy is knowing there are some people we know who might be envious of us…

Maggie: [Protesting]  Alan!  This is ridiculous!

Alan: No really!  I mean, why would we travel down to South Florida – a capital of consumerism – to celebrate one of the most important holidays of our religion.

Maggie:  But Alan, this is what you always said that you wanted.  I had no idea…

Alan: [Interrupting again]  If it weren’t hard enough finding something real through all the holiday specials and Jingle Bells back home, how am I going to find meaning here with red ribbons tied around palm trees, and Silent Night set to a Latin beat… And then finally,… if you do manage to cut through it all – to shut it all out – all you’re left with is a quaint little story about a baby in a manger.

Maggie: [Somewhat excited.]  My friend Sandra from church..  She read an article about the birth of Jesus, and they said that the stable was a very unsanitary place to have a baby.  She said it was probably very smelly, and they were very lucky that no one died from infections…

Alan: [Frustrated with Maggie]  Okay, okay!  So it was a quaint little story about a baby in dirty barn overrun with smelly farm animals!  [Throwing up his arms.]  What am I supposed to understand?..  How is this supposed to give me hope for the future?

Maggie:  [Slightly shocked, in a ditzy way]  But Alan, the Bible says that he’s the Son of God…

Alan: Yeah, yeah,..  I was reminded with that samba rendition of “Silent Night” on the airplane intercom as we were wrestling our baggage out of the overhead compartments:.. Silent Night, Holy Night, Son of God, Love’s pure light… I’ve sung and listened to “Silent Night” for 44 years now.  And you know, it means about as much to me now as it did when I was eight-years-old.  I mean, maybe I’m just stuck on the quaintness…  And for me, quaintness borders on the irrelevant.

Maggie: Ginny told us that Jesus was 100 percent man and 100 percent God.  I’m not sure I really understand but…

Alan:  [Interrupting…]  What?  100 percent God?  No!  Wasn’t he, like, just sort of specially endowed from God, or something?  Y’know, like special wisdom and miraculous powers and stuff…

Maggie:  No, no…  Ginny showed us from the Bible…  It was just two weeks ago.  There’s even a verse in the Bible where Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.”

Alan: I always thought, like, God just sort of passed the baton to Jesus for a little while.

Maggie: Well, Ginny says…

Alan: [Interrupting again, fed up…]  Ginny, Ginny, Ginny…  Would you stop telling me what Ginny said!  If I had wanted Ginny on my Christmas vacation, I could have invited her.

Maggie: [Slightly taken aback.  Thinks, for a moment, then continues slowly.]  I think…  [Gaining confidence]  I believe that Jesus is, like, everything that God is, but collapsed or condensed into a real, living person.

Alan: [Thinking while talking]  I’m not sure I follow.  What are you getting at?..

Maggie: Well, it’s like…  If you take all of God’s power – like, He created the world and stuff – and all of God’s creativity – y’know, like, he made us all different and special – and all of God’s love – like caring about each one of us…

Alan: [Starting to pick up…]  …and all of God’s wisdom, and all of God’s majesty…

Maggie: That’s right, that’s right!  If you took all that stuff which is all, you know, totally God, and boiled it down so that it was really concentrated, and then put it in a real, living person…  well, then…  you’d have Jesus!

Alan: [Starting to have an epiphany…waving hands and arms a bit..]  Y’mean, like…  [pausing]  Well maybe it would be like taking the whole ocean, and putting all its essence inside this glass of water…[pointing at his glass]

Maggie: [A bit confused]  Now you’ve lost me again.

Alan:  Remember how we were talking about the ocean: how it’s so much more than our little stretch of beach, and our peaceful view… Can you imagine .. for instance…  …taking the drive and relentlessness of the ocean’s tides, and capturing it all in this little glass of water… Ad can you imagine taking the thousands and thousands of miles of shoreline, and the waves smashing against them, and capturing that fury and power, and projecting it all into this glass of water …Can you imagine the dark depths of the ocean, thousands of meters under the surface, where sunlight never hopes to penetrate, and capturing that weight, and density, and unfathomable depth, and sticking that into this little glass…

Maggie: [Catching on now, excited…]  …And what about, like, just how big the ocean is…  I mean, doesn’t it take days and days just to cross it even in the fastest boats?

Alan: That’s right, that’s right.  You’ve got the width and the length of the ocean: from here to the coast of Africa, from Antarctica up to the Arctic Sea...  You’d have to somehow capture the essence of that expanse, and stick it in this glass.

Maggie:  And don’t forget the beautiful turquoise waters around the Caribbean islands.

Alan:  That’s right – you’d have to transpose the beauty and serenity of the entire ocean into this little glass.

Maggie: You can’t forget the sunrise over the ocean…

Alan: Or the massive, inexorable ocean currents…

Maggie: There’s also the coral reefs, teaming with life and color and diversity…

Alan: Yes, yes…  All of it, all of it!  The timelessness, the majesty, the richness, the vastness…  It would all be there…  [gesturing at his glass of water]  That would be Jesus – God himself incarnate as man!

[Both pause to enjoy the moment of truth.]

Alan: I wonder what it was like for Jesus – I mean God – to be projected into the life of a mere man?  [At this moment, Alan starts to lift the glass of water to his lips to take a drink.]

Maggie:  [Flat out…  matter-of-factly…]  Ginny said that God becoming man in Jesus would be more of a come-down than, like... you or me being put in the body of an earthworm…

[By the time Maggie has finished talking, Alan will have finished his sip of water.  Just as Maggie finishes, Alan makes a terrible grimace, and spits out the water in a dramatic spray.]

Alan: [Seemingly very upset at first.]  Maggie! [pause as he finishes wiping his mouth and gathering himself…]  Maggie! Where did you get this water?

Maggie:  It’s straight from the water cooler.  I had a glass of it myself before I came out.  What’s wrong Honey?

Alan: It’s awful!  It must have gone stale somehow.  Maybe the last people that used this timeshare left a few weeks ago, and it’s been sitting ever since.

Maggie:  I’m sorry Honey.  My glass tasted fine to me.  It’s that “Sparkling Clear” spring water stuff that we get down here.

Alan: Well, I don’t know what it is…  All I know is that this water [gesturing at his glass]  is totally unpalatable!  Did you see if there were anything else left in the house to drink?

Maggie: I think I saw a few cans of soda when I looked in the fridge.  Do you want me to try and find you something?

Alan:  No thanks.  I’ll go inside and take a look myself.  [Starts heading off stage, and hands the glass of water off to Maggie.  Maggie remains standing, and watches him go off.  As he goes off he is clearly heard to say…]  An ice cold can of Diet Coke could really do wonders for me right now…

Maggie: [Calling after him.]  Don’t forget my suitcase, Honey…

[Maggie pauses, looks back at the “ocean,” looks briefly at the glass and takes a sip of water.  Looks again at the glass, and then continues to take several gulps of water, clearly enjoying it.  When she finishes drinking, she looks briefly offstage in the direction where Alan left,  shrugs her shoulders, and holds her hands/arms in a questioning way (as if to say, “What’s his problem, the water was fine..”)  Then she lifts the glass of water up high, looks at it with a smile on her faces, looks out again at the “ocean,” shakes her head with a slight smile, looks back at the glass again, smiles again and gives a heart-felt thumbs up with her other hand.  After a quick pause, she heads cheerfully offstage.]

© Tom Woodley
All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged. In exchange for free performance, the author would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed. He may be contacted at: