Awakening to God at the Beach by Fran Salone-Pelletier

There is something special about the sea. Perhaps my Mediterranean heritage initiates that belief. The shared human experience of our prenatal float in amniotic fluid night be the cause. I simply know that I am drawn to tidal waters. Rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, they match my own life. There are days when I am at my lowest. The tide of my life is out. All my vulnerabilities are open for view. The flotsam and jetsam of daily living is exposed for analysis, dismissal, destruction—or salvation. It is harder and harder to wade out into the deep for a cleansing and invigorating swim. But, interestingly, this is also feeding time for those seeking nurture from all that cannot be seen in the rush and flow of high water. My loss is their gain.

High waters threaten to engulf me. Rip currents menace my ability to ride the tide. Crashing waves warn me that the shoreline is no less dangerous. Hurricanes are menacingly capricious reminders that we are not in control of life. But always there are the days when the waters are calm, the breeze is perfect, the sand is free of broken shells and jagged pieces of glass. I can walk carefree. All is well with me and my world. My gain is loss to none.

It does not matter if it is the vastness of the ocean or the meandering of a creek, river, or rill that calls. I hear their voices, in turn, as response to the variety of my own listenings and heedings. Sometimes, the sights, sounds, and smells of a murky creek evoke a realization that I, too, have dark days. But life lurks in the boggy darkness. There is movement in that quagmire. It is swift and sure, bringing change with every challenge and challenge with every change.At the beach, salty winds and splashing waves beckon me with the siren song of spirituality. Add the sun’s warmth, the crunch of a pebbled shoreline beneath my bare feet, the cry of gulls, the swift pace of sanderlings, the elegance of egrets, the majesty of pelicans, and the picture is complete. Together with the God of Genesis, I inhale the wonder before me and exhale my profound appreciation. “This is good.”

Each component adds its unique and mysterious grace to fill my spirit. Each reveals an aspect of God which might otherwise elude me. Each reminds me that I am but a speck in the universe, albeit an important one. And so are you. No one is unnecessary. Tiny though we may be, every one of us has a crucial role to play in the evolving of creation. We are God’s conspirators.

As I watch and witness, I learn. I discover more and more about myself and others. I see again how much we hold in common, even within those experiences we think are setting us apart. We are as dissimilar as ghost crabs and sea turtles. Note that both burrow into the sand: one seeks and finds a safe haven to call home, the other finds a birthing place for its young. Similarly, we all utilize this planet for different but equally valid reasons.

I feel the salt spray against my face and know the tears of the universe. I splash with glee in the waters and recognize the frolic waiting to be found in creation. With grand abandon, I immerse myself in the flowing water, allowing its tug to pull and push me hither and yon. I feel the wonder of baptism with each movement, cleansing me as I am drawn into refreshing newness. I hear children’s voices. They shout before jumping into the waves, and I realize there is a certain playfulness in God’s world. I need to attend to this marvel more carefully and with profound joy.

My toes wiggle in the ever-moving sand. I can feel the ocean tugging at each toe, tearing every pebble away, displacing the sand and letting my feet sink more securely into its depths. Is there a bottom to be touched or will an eternal infiltration allow me to become one with the cosmos?

My childhood memories recall long days spent at seaside. After breakfast, armed with bag lunches, my friends and I went crabbing along foreboding nooks and crannies. We slipped and slid down the seaweed-laden rocky ledges of Connecticut’s coastline. By midmorning, the sweatshirts we wore for warmth against cool, late August mornings were wrapped around our waists. Nothing would hinder our travels. After lunch, we were swimsuit-clad and ready for an afternoon alternately spent basking in the sun and swimming in the sea. Enjoyed with friends, life was simple. Life was good.

Now that I have entered my eighth decade, I go to the water’s edge to regain that simplicity and goodness. No longer gifted with youthful agility, I refrain from climbing slippery slopes. To bask in the sun is not medically permissible. To swim in the ocean is also forbidden. But to walk along the water’s edge and absorb the wonders of God’s creation is both eminently possible and utterly delightful. To bend down and retrieve treasured shells and watch the myriad creatures flee from the danger of my probing fingers causes me to smile.

As I walk, I mimic the cry of the gulls, the hasty pace of the sanderlings, the egrets’ mincing walk, the crabs’ sideways crawl. I find joy in the obvious diversity. I crane my neck to see pelicans glide with prehistoric grace across the tops of the waves. I yearn to be part of their parade, their unique community. I let the wind ruffle my hair, short as it is, and know a sweet abandon. Baptized in that grace, I am one with creation.

My journey is not ended. It is renewed. And I am made new as well. God is with me on my voyage. God laughs like a gull, runs by my side with sandpiper speed, glides along the waves of my life like a pelican, crawls into the burrows of my being, and ruffles my comfortableness with breezy challenges. God calls. I listen, gaining a seaside spirituality. Here at the beach, I am awakening to God.

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of scriptural meditations), lead volunteer chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at hope5@atmc.net.

 

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