Sand Angels

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“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.”  Annie Dillard

Years ago, along the northern coast of California, I laid on the sand in my sweatshirt and jeans. I stared at the sky. I then closed my eyes and inhaled the salt air and listened to the ocean’s roar. It was bliss. Anyone who has been to the west coast knows the majesty of my meaning. I laid quietly for a while, absorbing the moment in all its glory; then shouted to my friend standing nearby.

“Meredith, look at me!” I started dragging my arms and legs back and forth in the sand. “Sand angels!”, I voiced. I slowly got up to examine my imprint, trying not to disturb its form. Little did I know, this self-impression would come to exemplify how I understand myself. I am equal parts dirt and divine. We all are. Being human is nothing less/nothing more than living in the strange superimposed reality of these two distinctive identities co-existing, not as a duo but as a union. We spotlight our focus on one part more than the other at times; but such tunnel vision dismisses the value of how these two unified forces work together to make us truly human.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved being by and in water. My name, Jamie Lynn, is actually Gaelic for “laying by a pond/lake”. I guess I’ve lived up to my name. Creeks, rivers and lakes (and, yes, even chlorine pools) are cherished places to me, but the ocean holds the deepest part of my heart. I have often considered how I relate to God the same way I relate to the ocean. For starters, I respect the ocean with great reverence. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but rarely will I go deeper than my waist or shoulders when swimming amid the surf. I am keenly aware that I am not the dominant species in such domain – maybe I’ve seen Jaws one too many times. I have, however, been caught in a rip tide and it was a frightening experience. The ocean has powers that require respect. The bravest and best of sailors will admit that. The beauty and scandal the ocean possesses compels us to contend with how its waters have empowered us to travel the world around and, yet, surrenders us to the fact that we are not in charge of it. This is so humbling to me. Fortunately, the ocean is as predictable as it is unpredictable. The tides ebb and flow like clockwork. I find solace in this consistency. It is also comforting to me to consider how, despite my inland existence, the tides tick tock do not depend on me to be there to perpetuate their rhythm.

I live by the Atlantic Ocean and have spent countless hours there, but while I lay by the edge of the Pacific, I found myself extra-overwhelmed by its grandeur. After all, the deepest part of the world’s waters is found within the Pacific’s perimeters. Have they ever located the bottom of the Marina Trench? If they have, we are still not capable of personally going there yet. How do I fathom that kind of depth? I become equally overwhelmed with considering God’s omniscience and eternal existence. Sometimes it all feels too far-fetched. My puny brain can’t comprehend it in a way that feels palpable or even personal. Though as I lay in the sand that day in California listening to the waves crash, I heard another sound like gentle rippling water. I later realized the sound was coming from an area along the edge of the tide that hugged an alcove of the beach. I walked over to the shallow water and noticed how the sea softly lapped along the shore. The loud surf resounded only a few yards away from this serene space. It was all the same sea. The ocean has depths I will never fully comprehend but it is accessible just the same – inviting me to enter as I am able. I stepped into the cold Pacific surf and smiled. “God is here”, I thought. He created the grand seascape that humbles me as well as the gentle spirited shore that beckons me to participate in its reality.

I don’t want to solely perceive God as a fierce force, but to also celebrate how He speaks in whispers – beseeching me to lean in close to hear Him. Whether along the Atlantic or the Pacific coast, I love witnessing the splendor of being by the sea and observing how the horizon signifies a vastness all its own; and yet, within my affection of this, I cower at feeling any shared worth. I can easily feel like an insignificant spec of dirt on this big ball of dirt we call Earth. But that’s just it – I’m made of earth as well as ethereal elements. Humanity is a unique blend of both the land we stand on and the God who put us here. When God formed humanity out of soil, He also “breathed” His own essence into such earthen vessel (Genesis 2:7). I am capable of grasping aspects of the Deep because I possess God’s capacity. This synthesis is more than how bio-psychologists define our relationship with the world around us/within us or how Buddhists conceptualize our shared identity with all things; it is a holistic and personal identity. I may be limited by time and space (and even disability) but I am able to respond to/relate to the everlasting and ubiquitous God of the universe. He formed an intertwined connection with me because He fashioned me to reflect His likeness. How He is strong, I can be strong; how He loves, I can love; how He cares, I can care. I can pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and know He will answer this prayer because He has put heaven inside of me here on earth. He wants me to willingly participate in this reality, in the relationship He has revealed, not just when I’m at the ocean – but anywhere I am.

A few weeks after returning from that California trip, I sat at an outdoor café in the city. Somehow being surrounded by the concrete jungle and not the seascape, God felt less present. Everything I saw was manmade – buildings that stretched skyward, cars and bikes speeding by, the sound of horns and engines, the smells of, well, manmade stuff. I watched people bustle by me, talking on their manmade cell phones. I thought, “God, where are you? How can I hear You here?” I missed the ocean. I found myself staring at an ornamental facade on a building across the street – made from formed concrete. Then I smiled the same way I had at the ocean. Concrete is made from sand. This manmade creation was simply a reflection of God’s capacity to create. I looked at the people around me and realized their sandy angelic existence proves that God was there and still being heard. Anywhere there is a person empowered, God is providing strength; anywhere there is a person loved, God is loving them; and anywhere there is a person taking the time to care, God is caring through them.

References:

  1. Jamie examines the sand and sea, Montara Beach CA; photo by Meredith McGlinchey-Gordon 2007
  2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  3. About Bio-psychology
  4. If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him!: The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients by Sheldon Kopp
  5. The Weight of Glory; by C.S. Lewis
  6. Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

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