Beach grace: the summer truth that could change my fall

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Sunlight dances on wind-ripples, frosting the edge of each wave.

The tide is going out and little rivers trickle and rush their way between sandbars, braiding the surface of each waterway into a slightly different pattern.

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Between the larger sandbars pools have gathered, hosting hermit crabs and tiny shrimp that tickle my invading ankles and toes.

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At the other end of the beach, incoming waves meet outgoing ripples in a tic-tac-toe grid, each ripple passing through the perpendicular ones without cancelling it.

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I run back along the shore, delighting in the feel of the sandy ridges that massage the soles of my feet.

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A week into our two-week beach holiday I realize: every one of the treasures I am most deeply enjoying at the beach this year is a product of the interplay of the resistance of the beach and the ever-active, ever-pursuing touch of the water. Ridges, rivers, ripples, braided patterns on the water’s surface, sparkles frosting glittering wave-edges, tide pools hosting tiny lives—none of these would exist without the interplay of resistance and grace.

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There is so much hope here for me!

I dislike resistance. I desire to live with my heart open to God, and I grieve the ways I resist his love with my own fear and pride and desire for control. Yet though I grieve, I seem to have about as much ability to change my own heart as the sand does to remove its own bumps and ridges.

But as I watch the water, I begin to see. My resistance, and my inability to fix it, doesn’t shock God, frighten him, or perturb him. He knows that in the physical world of which he has made me a part, resistance to movement and change is a universal part of being. (That’s one of the few things I remember from Physics 101.) Resistance to change is a psychological reality too, and since something in me knows that opening to love will change me, I resist. And God has compassion on me and is patient and gentle, forgiving, healing, crowning. Remembering that I am dust (Ps 103).

He knows too that resistance can be an important part of becoming. The repeated “no”s of the “terrific twos” are an essential part of the child growing from an extension of her parents into her own God-created self. As God keeps loving me through my childlike “no”s, they often become grace-places in which I experience most deeply that I am loved, as myself, not just as part of Christ’s body. I am loved even when I am insisting on my separateness. And my knowing of myself as a separate person, and the other’s acceptance of me as a separate person, turns out to be a prerequisite for the development of intimacy. There must be separateness for there to be union.

The tide turns. At first nothing seems to happen. The ridges lie exposed, the beach bare. The waves continue their patient lapping. Then, slowly, gently, the water begins to inch back up the beach, following, like a well-mannered gentleman, the channels between the sand ridges, flowing left, then right, a pilgrim passing through a maze.

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Then, as the water continues to rise, the truth becomes clear: the bumps and ridges are no barrier to the water at all. Laughing with the holy delight of limitless love, another wave forms and breaks, and another, the lover pursing the willing beloved. The walls of the maze give way and the water rushes through its newly formed channels then floods over the tops of the ridges.

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I turn to look at another stretch of sand and when I turn back a moment later the sand has disappeared, enveloped, embraced.

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Above all, trust in the slow work of God,” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ’s words ring once more in my ears. I’m sure I’ll forget and fear again, but standing here on the beach watching the water rise I realize: at least in this moment of seeing, I’m not afraid of resistance. Here I see that—incredibly!—what seem to me like barriers often turn out to be landmarks on the way into union, the very places I experience myself most deeply loved. Glory glimmers at the interface of resistance and grace.

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The bumps of my resistance which seem so obvious when I walk over them barefoot or see them lying naked on the shore, seem almost irrelevant as I watch the water rising over them, no match for God’s ever-flowing love.

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I wander back down the beach and smile at the gulls perched on the last remaining island of sand. They remind me of myself, huddled on a bit of resistance while love is lapping the edges away. I wonder how small the island will have to shrink before they surrender and float or fly. Before I surrender and float or fly.

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High tide nears, and I stand in the edge of the sea as wave after wave washes over my feet, adorns me with an anklet of sea grass, then tugs a layer of sand from beneath my feet on its return to the sea.

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As each wave rolls over then under my feet, resistance is worn a little thinner, settling me a little more deeply into the love that surrounds and welcomes me.

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“Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus

Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free

Rolling as a mighty ocean

In its fullness over me

Underneath me, all around me

Is the current of your love

Leading onward, leading homeward

To Thy glorious rest above.”

(Samuel Trevor Francis)

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The first and the last two photos are courtesy of Marny Watts. (Thanks, Mom!)

7 thoughts on “Beach grace: the summer truth that could change my fall

  1. Wow! This is excellent and encouraging. Thank you for sharing. I haven’t heard that hymn for a while either and went and listened to it, thank you such insight. Perhaps God will use my humanness and stubbornness yet!

  2. I love this reminder of God’s boundless love for us, even when we sin and resist His work in us. The places where we grow the most are always the most uncomfortable.

  3. KD says:

    May grace enfold you and remind you often of these truths in the weeks ahead.

  4. Lynn Amaral says:

    thanks carolyn! timely words of reassurance!

  5. Esther Hizsa says:

    Yes. Amen to that. Thank you, Carolyn.

  6. Cheryl Powers says:

    Lovely, thoughts and pix both!

  7. Carol says:

    Insightful words accompanied by beautiful photos!

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