The Divine Ocean
I found God at the beach last week! As soon as I set foot in the water, I felt like I was home once again. My soul found rest and restoration. It has been at least 15 years since we've been to the beach. I have been trying to get to the beach for some of those years, but always seemed to let other things get in the way. One year it was a death in the family, one year a hurricane, many of those years it was simply too expensive or just too much trouble.
But we finally made it this year. I decreed on the first day that this was now an annual trip! What captured me immediately was the warmth of the water. After all those years of wading into a cold pool which required some acclimation, the ocean was so inviting right away. Then, after wading in further, up to my waist, I looked out and was aware of the vastness of it all. I was just in the Gulf of Mexico, but it still went on seemingly forever. As I went a little further, up to my chest, I became aware of the immense power all around me. I was pushed around with the waves on the surface and the current swirling below. I felt the heat on my head and body. I felt the heavy ocean breeze blow and bluster.
Then I noticed myself turn around every so often to check in with the family on the shore. They became my anchor to let me know I wasn't drifting too far one way or the other. In the face of all this power and force, I needed a tether to connect me to shore.
This was an all too easy spiritual leap to finding the Divine in the ocean. When being led in imaginative prayer where the pray-er guides us through a scene and asks us to imagine being in God's presence, I always picture some combination of water and sunshine. Here I was at the beach getting both. Sometimes, I am supported by God's warm waters and I am floating, full of joy to be immersed in God's presence. Sometimes, I am on the beach near God in the water and bathed in the warmth of the sun and wind. Sometimes, I'm even farther back on the porch, in the shade, looking over the sunshine and beach and water. Those days it is enough just to be near but not too close. Full immersion or even being at the water's edge is just too much on those days.
As I waded further out, I noticed fear rising as well. Full immersion is plenty scary when this much swirling is going on. I thought about going out even farther, but then I was reminded of all those shark movies and movies about folks being stranded out in the open water. In addition to being my one true home, water (and specifically drowning) is also one of my biggest phobias. That's why those movies are true horror for me. If I go in up to my neck or over my head and just float, like in my imaginative prayers, then I am out of control and I could end up in trouble, floating off down the shore or out to the open sea.
This is where surrender comes in for me and why it is so difficult. When confronted with the infinite possibilities of complete surrender, fear rises swiftly and abundantly. I have made such great strides to "let go and let God" but when I get out into the ocean a little ways, I realize the limitations of that surrender. Fear rises, I check out the shore for my anchor. I see myself drifting and pull myself back into the status quo instead of where God might lead me. The trick of course is learning to discern when there is true danger ahead and take steps of protection or correction and when there is merely the discomfort of the unknown ahead and I would do well to surrender to that unknown in trust and faith.
It is no accident that I have found God in the water in 2 of my first 4 posts. Water is life, literally and metaphorically. We all know countless songs and poems of every stripe and genre about water and its power in our lives. My faith tradition has a water communion ritual about this time every year. We mingle the waters of many of our members and friends some literal and some metaphorical they have gathered from summer travels. That water is blessed and purified and used for child dedications and other rituals throughout the church year. It becomes the power of community, love, and compassion.
There are countless other rituals from all faiths that use water. We need it to live, to clean, to worship, to create, to erode, to nurture. I was reminded of the true Divinity of water and in the water this week. May you be also reminded and may you find that Divinity in your life to challenge you, to support you, to immerse you in unconditional love. May it be forever so.