I think of the sea when I think of God.
Or maybe when I think of God I think of the sea.
Regardless, every time I visit the ocean I am presented with some new morsel of wisdom from the deep, as clearly as if it were written in the sand.
In fact, sand has been on my mind quite a bit lately.
What is sand? Sand is, in its most base form, just finely ground minerals and rocks.
But it’s not just layers of powdered rocks, it’s more than that.
It’s a bed, it’s safety. It’s building materials, a nest for eggs, it’s a dock, it’s a home, it’s a vacation.
Hot, cool; gritty, soft; malleable, ever-changing; loose, firm; wispy, clingy. It’s constantly changing its shape, its relationship to us, its characteristics.
Some love it, some hate it.
No matter how you feel about it, you can’t get to the sea without crossing through the sand first.
Think of it this way, dear reader, if the sea is God – what then is the sand?
You see, when I think of the sea, I think of God.
Or perhaps when I think of God I think of the sea.
Regardless – sand? The world. Materialism. Humanity. Sin.
There’s so many little gifts buried in the sand that I want to uncover, and I’m not sure which treasure to begin with.
For you see, the world, materialism, humanity, and sin – these things are so present in our lives, and every time I think I’ve found the last morsel of wisdom, my mind shovel knocks on another.
So, let’s dive into this together.
As most of you who follow me know, I am afraid of water. Something about the ocean just makes me nervous.
And so I choose to stay on the sand, where I know I’m safe.
After all, the only water that can reach me when I’m on the sand is the froth foam that reaches out playfully to lap my toes when I dare to stroll so close to death.
I cling to sand, to land, because I believe that it’s safe.
It’s comforting. It’s home. It’s the known.
The ocean is so vast and mysterious, powerful and capable of nearly anything…why would I leave my sandy perch for something like that?
Yet I can watch my friend out there, masterfully diving through and riding over waves, and even though I’m far back, I can imagine his adrenaline, his joy.
He is thrilled. He is exhilerated. He is alive out there.
I can see the smile on his face, not just the curve of his mouth but the light in his eyes, as he drops down to his sandy spot besides mine.
Next time, I promise. Next time I’ll go out there.
But I don’t.
And why would I? Why would I leave my safe stable soft for something wild and unknown and exciting and never ending?
Why would I indeed?
My friends, why would I ever leave my safe stable soft humanity for something wild and unknown and exciting and never ending like a relationship with God?
We build these worlds for ourselves, these finely crafted worlds of painted walls and painted cars, painted smiles and painted masks, and then we grow so comfortable that we settle in and dig our heels when our friends beg us to jump into to the water and have fun.
Have fun? In the vast mysterious powerful unknown?
What if I get hurt? Or lost? Or something happens that’s out of my control?
No thank you. I’m comfortable here.
I’m comfortable in my sand. In my humanity. My materialism. Sin.
We grow complacent and lazy from our sitting, and we fear a relationship with God, even though it’s the only thing we need in our lives.
And so we sit, gather our things to our chest protectively, and shake our heads violently when our friends hold out a hand to guide us into the vast and wild faith.
We labor over building sand castles while our friends surf in the cool wet.
Building sand castles used to be one of my favorite things to do at the beach.
I used to spend hours trying to sculpt and mold and pile and adorn.
But you know what always ended up happening?
Someone would trip through my castle.
A bird would perch on a turret and it would collapse into itself when the bird took flight.
Wind, too much weight, all these things would make building very difficult.
But perhaps the most frequent destroyer of my sand castles? The sea itself.
Doesn’t matter how I’d try to protect my castle, with moats and walls and even my physical self, the ocean always won in the end.
Truly, He will always win, no matter how you try to reinforce your castle.
He will always knock it down – for what are our plans compared to His?
We are told the parable of the wise and the foolish builders, the two men who constructed their houses on different foundations.
The man who constructed his house on sand was soon left homeless after a rainstorm.
Why do we insist on banking our plans on things that are not meant to last?
We build our houses on or out of jobs, cars, spouses and girl friends, grades, hobbies, social networks, addictions, and intentions.
And we mourn when they are washed out from underneath of us.
Why, we scream at God, our pain tangible.
Now I have nothing!
And in the still, in the nothing, we hear “You still have me.“
Therein lies the nugget of wisdom that I’ve been digging for.
When we sit on the beach, too afraid to enter into the ocean, we distract ourselves with building the perfect castle.
Yet, that castle is soon destroyed, through some way or another.
It is only after our frustration with constantly rebuilding and exhausting ourselves that we either mourn in deafeat, or we begrudgingly enter the water.
Truly, when we sit in our complacency and sin and exhaust ourselves building the “perfect” life, the American Dream, the “successful sally” that everyone hopes to be, we are too busy to consider the wild excitement the sea could bring.
And when our lives are washed out from underneath of us, we are left with two choices.
Sorrow and mourning amidst the remnants of a past life, or finally just diving into faith.
For those who choose to stay on the beach, it is a tough go.
For as we all know, sand can be a hell of a nuisance.
It’s gritty, hot, dusty, dry. It gets in all the cracks and nooks, takes forever to brush off, and follows you everywhere.
I am reminded of my most recent trip to the beach. I came home with a half eaten pound of licorice which I placed in the kitchen for the rest of my family.
It was only after my parents felt the crunch that they realized there was sand in the candy, from a beach three hours away from the house. I had tracked it in with my laundry, my bags, my flip flops, and even the food.
I am reminded of another time, the nebulous time of my childhood, when sand actually seemed appealing to eat. My parents may not have thought so last summer, but when I was a child, it just looked so good. It was like crushed graham cracker crumbs, or the brown sugar my mom would sprinkle on my cream of wheat. It looked like crystallized honey. The temptation to eat that sand was more than my little self could handle.
We all know how that story ends.
Crunch, grit, wince. No, Anna, stop eating the sand.
Crunch, grit, wince. That’s enough, I mean it.
Crunch, grit, wince – this time hidden, clandestine.
It wasn’t satisfying, it wasn’t even slightly good. But I kept going back to it, as every little child will.
Yes, readers, for those who choose to stay on the beach rather than enter the water, it can be a tough go.
For those who choose to stay and mourn rather than dive into Christ, it is a tough go.
As sand follows you everywhere and sticks to everything, as does sin.
Sin leeches itself onto you, becomes a habit, becomes an addiction, becomes the easy thing to do or maybe even disguised as the right thing to do.
In fact, chances are good you’ll be covered in sand whether you want to or not. Just in this way, it’s often very hard to avoid sin when you’re sitting right in the midst of it.
And as sand looks appetizing, looks like it could satisfy hunger, so sin does, though neither can.
Sin will never satisfy our hunger, yet we constantly crunch grit wince through it, hidden behind sand pails or castles or masks or good deeds.
Here, then, is yet another morsel of wisdom for you, readers.
How best to rid ourselves of sand, to clean off our feet and clean out our mouths, than by washing it off in the water?
What better way than to cleanse ourselves of sin and satisfying our spiritual hunger than by washing ourselves in the water of the Holy Spirit, through baptism, through the anointing of grace, through drinking His Most Precious Blood and dancing in His tears?
Sand will burn you. Sand will shift from underneath you. It will cling to you, follow you home, taste horrible. It will sting your eyes and dust your nose.
This is not to say that sand is all bad. Playing on the sand can be fun, and resting on the sand in the sun can be refreshing.
But it is when we let the sand distract ourselves from the ocean, therein lies the problem.
Our lives, our humanity and materialism, these things can be and should be embraced to some extent.
But we cannot allow these things to absorb us and keep us from swimming in Christ’s love.
You see, I know how scary the ocean is.
And I know how scary a relationship with God is.
Free-falling in the sea, in faith, is scary
It is scary, oftentimes lonely, and requires a lot of strength.
Yet, it is refreshing. Exhilarating. Worth it.
I can see the smile on my friend’s face as he exits the water and drops to his towel next to me, the smile not just curving on his mouth but lighting up his eyes. He was alive out there.
I want to be alive too! I want to swim and surf in the ocean!
Perhaps this summer I’ll get in the water. Perhaps.
But most likely I’ll be too scared to swim in the ocean.
But I’m already swimming in the faith, I’m already rinsing the sand out from behind my ears and between my toes.
My castle has long since been knocked over by trampling feet and gusty winds, a heightened wave or two.
So I left it on the shore, where it still today lies in ruins, and I walked straight into the ocean.
It has been a wild, mysterious, and exhilarating ride.
And it has been worth it.
Post Script Update:
While I was writing this, I kept humming this church hymn titled “Lord When You Came to the Seashore,” which I think fits rather aptly. It’s an old one, but a great one.