As summer turns to fall: what we can’t afford to miss

It was wonderful. Two weeks on the beach, our schedule dictated by the rise and fall of the tide.  Our lives bigger than just us, revolving around something completely other. Something constantly in motion but ever sure. Changing in its daily appearance but certain in its rise and fall. It set the schedule, we adapted, working other activities around the tide. At low tide, the children built sand castles. At high tide, they swam. My favorite was the in-between, the time when the ocean was pouring back in.

I perched, late one afternoon, on a rough, layered sandstone rock, burrowing my toes into the warm reddish grains on which the rock sat. The sun streamed across the water, each wave pressing in a little further. I sat. Waited. Watched. Soaked in the beauty and the stillness. Lived into the words God had been speaking to me all week: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” Be still. The same message had greeted me every morning as Dad and I ran around the big loop, passing the little white church whose billboard carried the reminder. The one I needed again every morning. “While it is still summer: Psalm 46:10” I knew the words without looking them up. “Be still and know that I am God.” I know them by memory. But do I know them by heart?

An hour later, I walked back across the sand, my eyes on the ground where the sun’s light turned the sand into a million sparkling jewels. I realized it afresh, how we are tenderly surrounded, enfolded. How I walk each moment, oblivious, mostly, to the magnificence upholding me. How I tread as though the grains beneath my feet are just dirt, when really each grain is striking beauty, carefully crafted love.

Another wave pressed in, pursuing me, tugging at my feet, each wave following the prior without a break, each, in its falling back, turning over a thousand shining sand crystals, a thousand grains of beautiful loving.

I had walked down the beach on bare sand. I waded back through love which had flowed in, pursuing me, even while I sat watching it. I chose to wade deeper, surrendering to this love which always pursues.

I’m back now in the big city, not feeling quite ready to be back here. My mind, still heavy with jet lag, moves into the fall. Part of me holds back, the part that wants to stay small and let God be God. And I remember what I’ve been learning lately. Much of what I deeply long for is, in truth, being offered. My longing is often an extension of God’s longing for me. It’s me that hesitates to receive. So it is with this. The command to be still (“cease striving”) and know that God is God is not for the summer only. Like the tide which flows in and out twice daily, welcoming us into its rhythm, the invitation persists. Receive, then give. Sleep, then wake. Be quiet, then speak. These tidal rhythms of grace are magnificently bigger than us, God’s steady pursuit of us something we can center our lives in.

Yesterday, the same reminder came in another form. I had just been given an hour and a half of God’s gentle welcome through the listening of another.  I had let myself settle deeper into God’s love just as I had chosen to wade into the waves that tugged at my feet. It was only as I was leaving that I glimpsed the choice, or part of it, that lay behind this gift I had just received. It was then she mentioned, in answer to a question, that she had a smaller teaching load in the upcoming course. That it had been hard to admit her need, ask for less. But that now she’s so grateful she listened. So am I.

The echo came later, giving me the answer to a question she had asked about who I’m called to be for others. It came in the early morning, in the moments of quiet waiting, the reminder that my first calling is always to listen. Writing may be part of the “how.” But it is not the “who.” Who I’m called to be, for God and others and myself, is one who seeks to live with heart wide open to God. If I refuse to cease striving and wait for God, if I choose not to guard my heart, this wellspring of life, my attempts to serve matter not at all: I have nothing to give. And so at the start of this season, I return again to the wisdom offered: “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life.” (Prov 4:23 New English Translation)  And to the word that teaches me how: “Stay quiet before Yahweh, wait longingly for him.” (Ps 37:7 New Jerusalem Bible)