Walking the beach
I was eight when I first felt like God was silent.
Laying in bed at night, restless and haunted by the dramatic altar calls pronounced by volunteers at the Southern Baptist Church I attended on Wednesday nights, I tossed and turned and begged God to find me good enough. And God was silent, so I learned to fear silence.
I found habits and rhythms to help me believe that God always spoke clearly and directly. I consumed chapters of Scripture, and felt the words I did not fully understand come alive as they bounced around in my heart and mind. I journaled and poured those lively thoughts back out to God. And it worked, for awhile. Without fail, though, times would come when God would grow silent, an enigmatic flow of life and death, silence and conversation. It terrified me when I was younger, but I’m learning to trust the rhythm, to love the lull of the ebb and flow, like ocean waves.
The Tide wanes, and it takes all that is within me to will myself to the Book of Common Prayer, or to other books whose pages abound with prayers that can carry my tired soul into the presence of a God I find wholly not compelling, yet who has been so undeniably real that I can’t quit altogether.
I fumble my way through heavy, dripping wet sands and sharp rocks cut away at my feet. Stray seaweed, left behind by the receding water wraps around my ankles, and I am sent sprawling in to mud and murk if I do not keep a close eye on where I’m stepping, and the Tide recesses further still.
But then, it returns. Eventually.
The water rises and bubbles around my toes and ankles, knees and licks at my thighs. The thick, muddy sand softens and gives way, the loose grains enveloping every curve of my tired feet, gently massaging away the callouses. Fresh waves of salt water flood the cuts and sores from the jagged rocks, healing them faster than I could have imagined. Glittering clam shells and majestic conch shells wash up beside me, treasures there for the taking. Waves rush in with such force that I am set off balance, falling into the waves immersed in the water.
Buried and raised time and again.
And the Tide will go out again. I will once again meander down a stark shore, treasures of shell and sea glass few and far between.
And the Tide will rush in again. It is inevitable.
I used to think–and told other people too!–that “if God feels far away, guess who moved?” I don’t believe that anymore.
I don’t know how it works, or why, but God feels like the Tide, rising and waning constant and changing, somehow absolutely both at once. But always present, always, always.
In this season, my pockets grow heavy with the treasures of a Tide rushing in, loaded with shells and sea glass to be discovered. And I know the Tide will wane again, but I continue to walk the beach. As so many before me have cried, “Where else would I go?” The shells will clack against one another in my pockets as I pick my way along the shore in the dark, reminding me life rushes in sometimes, often unexpectedly.
But I walk the beach, and hold space.