From the Shore at Tankerton
Sitting by the shore on a gentle day, idly watching the waves meet their nemesis, can be a surprisingly beneficial therapy. We all know that the sea has its moods, just like ourselves. In its extremes it can be menacing and destructive as well as gentle and soothing. A reminder to us that we all live within a reality that is experienced more as an ever-changing flux, than a predictable programme. But, observing gentle waves breaking on the shore can speak to us of the friendly and peaceful flow of Divine presence, a presence that transcends all situations and all contingent forces. A presence that is never passive, never stationary, but always active, challenging us, changing us, bathing us, cleansing us, shaping us, nurturing us , healing us and, above all, enveloping us in the flow of God’s love. A flow that is present even when, like the Prodigal Son of the parable, we stray from the warmth and security of the Father’s household.
Paradoxically, the persistent rhythm of breaking waves exhibits the senses of both constancy and change. The regular frequency of the arrival of waves is punctuated by sudden change as the bed of the shore rises to cause the wave to collapse , break and dissipate. Perhaps a metaphor for the constant flow of God’s love faithfully arriving and spreading on the shore of our individual and varied lives?
Those of us who can no longer escape the description of ‘old’ can perhaps also discern here a parable about our life’s ultimate destiny. When we watch waves arriving on the shore we are witnessing the end of a very long journey, across the vastness of the ocean. The breaking of a wave on the shore truly is its final destination, its energy not lost but released , set free, dissipated, shared, absorbed. Faith has taught us that our journey in life will likewise come into ultimate fruition as we reach the shore of fulness of time, in eternity, our very ‘being’ surrendering into the safe beach of God’s heart and love.
However, for those of younger years , perhaps the waves can speak with a different voice. The sea is vast, the way forward seems clear, stretching into the far distance, a horizon always beckoning, the journey exhilarating, a future anticipated and planned with confidence in the freedom of forward
movement . Yes, obstacles will be encountered from time to time, but the beauty of waves lies in their ability to bend round corners, to get past obstacles. Worth reminding ourselves that none of us can avoid unexpected impediment in life, a narrowing of options, but God’s love and our responsive faith ensures a continued forward movement within Divine will and purpose. Each impediment is the alpha point of a new centre of outward movement. For each of us, whether old or young, the journey ahead is always in companionship with Christ, and that which is past, both the commendable and the regretful, is already in the accepting embrace of a loving God and Redeemer.
Sea, river, lake and water itself are mentioned over a hundred of times in the Bible, in a variety of literal, metaphorical and parabolic senses. They were, and still are, used symbolically to highlight deeply spiritual emotions and actions such as cleansing, healing, baptism, Spirit empowerment, hospitality and servanthood. More darkly, in ancient times , the sea came to represent the vastness of the unknown, turbulence and danger. The unfathomable depths of the sea have been used to speak of anguish, and the Psalmist uses the metaphor of deep water to describe the hard place of spiritual confusion and helplessness:-
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to
my neck. I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold… (Psalm 69 v 1-2)
But the Irish Celtic poet John O’Donohue specifically reminds us that a flowing river can speak to us of surprise:-
I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.
( ‘Fluent’ in ‘Conamara blues’ )
These short lines offer a deep truth. In our imagination we can hold the idea of a flowing river experiencing surprise as it makes its long journey, rushing swiftly at times, tumbling over rocks, running through deep gorges, flowing in dark places as well as sunny places, getting its breath back as it finds itself in gentle, serene movement alongside green pastures where sheep nonchalantly graze. Rather like the panorama of our own lives? ‘surprise’ is an important aspect of our spiritual journey, both alone and with others. We must never lose sight of the truth that all human lives truly are surprising! Every person, even the one we are not drawn to, has a value simply because they exist, a graceful manifestation of a creative God. The fact that you and I actually exist at all is perhaps the ultimate surprise. Cosmologists, including those who have embraced atheistic philosophical stances, still wonder at the infinitesimally small mathematical probability of life spontaneously emerging anywhere across the whole universe. As we journey we can daily surprise each other in love, friendship and servanthood. The important thing is that, although surprise can sometimes be unwanted and negative, as well exciting and positive, we do not travel alone because,
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul. Psalm 23
As Jesus constantly surprised his first disciples, washing their feet, setting his determination on that final dangerous visit to Jerusalem, sitting at table with the socially despised, reaching out to touch those designated as untouchable, and telling his followers to love their enemies,
LORD, surprise me today, and each and every day, as I go about my daily life. May I bring the surprise of Christ’s love to all whom I encounter. May I see with new eyes the surprise of Jesus’ spiritual journey, and the dazzling brightness of the resurrection.
Terry Rees March 2022