The shades of gray vary only slightly on a hazy February day at the beach. The shadowy line on the distant horizon distinctly divides the sea from the sky. But still, all remains shades of gray, khaki gray sand, green gray sea, silver gray haze, and blue gray sky. The waves roll to the shore, whitecaps splashing one curve into another. A rip current runs parallel to the beach, a speedboat flume spraying out the back, until it collides with the incoming waters. Speed racer bubbles float across the water’s trail until colliding with a speed bump shell and popping into an ephemeral mist. The froth of the wave, foamy white, scurries towards the sand, leveling out until it rolls back, overcome by the following round. The cycle repeats again and again. The unpredictable and yet certain rhythm mesmerizes me. The noise of the surf and the roar of the wind block out the sounds of the people and the cars passing by. I close my eyes and think that I might be alone.
Except there are the birds. I am the intruder here. The seabirds gather just down the shore, spread out in a sentinel line. Gulls and terns stand in the mirror waters, waiting for the signal to move. A pelican flies solo over the gulf shore, looking for the right moment to make his kamikaze dive, a plunge into the sea for his lunch. Tiny sandpipers dart back and forth, following the waves, stopping only to peck an unsuspecting crab before quickly shifting direction once again. A blue heron stands stately until finally making a graceful launch up into the air.
And also, there are the people. A couple of men try to fly a trick kite. The green and yellow triangle swoops and swerves, dipping dangerously towards the water before they pull it back up again, fighting against the wind all the while. A couple on pedaling bikes roll by, their fat donut tires leaving knobby prints in the sand. Two women walk past, talking and seeming not to notice the incoming waves lapping their bare toes or the wind pushing their hair from their faces. Others drive past silently in cars, the roar of the sea louder than that of the engines.
All this, and yet I close my eyes and think again, I am alone. This year I have entered into a new season, different from any I have passed through before. In taking a time of sabbatical away from vocation and daily community, a good part of my life lately consists of quiet reflection. Here at the beach, my thoughts quickly turn to that of the psalmist who wrote,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?…
The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8:4, 8-9 (ESV)
I too confess,
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
He continues to instruct me and I continue to learn
that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive,