God in the Ocean

Yesterday morning I flew from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, where we picked up a rental car to drive up to Malibu, where we’re staying for three nights in connection with a conference at Pepperdine Law School that I will be speaking at this morning.

I frequently joke about all of the ways Minneapolis is not like New York, things like the lack of good bagels.  But one of the things I miss most about living in the mid-west is not living near an ocean.  Minnesota may be the land of a thousand lakes but that is not the same as the ocean.

The first thing we did after arriving at our hotel (after the drive on the Pacific Coast Highway) was to walk along the beach.  Staring at the ocean – water as far as the eye can see, I breathe more easily and I feel, at one and the same time, a sense of calm and a feeling of awe.

I can find God anywhere, I know, but one can’t stand at the ocean and not see God.  I understand deeply what Frederick Buechner expressed about it:

They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. One wonders what there was about it that moved him so.

The beauty and the power of it? The inexpressible mystery of it? The futility of all those waves endlessly flowing in and ebbing out again? The sense that it was out of the ocean that life originally came and that when life finally ends, it is the ocean that will still remain? Who knows? . . .

Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time a near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears.

I think Tillich caught “a glimpse of the One he was praying to.”  Perhaps more than a glimpse.

[In his comment, my friend Richard reminds me Minnesota is the land of ten thousand lakes, not a thousand.]


4 thoughts on “God in the Ocean

  1. Dear, dear Susan! It’s TEN thousand lakes!!! Minnesota has ten thousand lakes, not “a thousand.” Have great conference. Do well this morning. Then, hurry home to Minnesota and our ten thousand lakes ( and that’s a conservative estimate). 🐠🐟🐄🐖🐓🐡⛄️❄️🐬

  2. Might it be the shoreline that beckons. . .

    MY INITIAL LITERARY JOURNEY with William S. Kurtz, The Acts Of The Apostles, Collegeville Bible Commentary, was as enjoyable as the visual and audible pleasures experienced while on a nature walk with a favorite naturalist. The apostle’s journeys and growth of the early Catholic Church came to life on the pages of his reflections and commentary. Attention and enjoyment held sway over the swells of emotions inundating and marinating among my beliefs and thoughts.

    Faith often leads us towards calm waters, calm waters we often seek for many known and unknown reasons. I stilled the emotional surges rising against my flood gates of reason while struggling to recall specific examples of scriptural explanation and purpose contained therein. Safe harbor encountered once more upon realization descriptive answers permanently reside upon the pages I had so recently enjoyed, pages comfortably resting on the nightstand near my bed.

    In life, our hearts and minds are often steeled with certainty of the known, yearning for balance, harmony and inner peace only the unknown can provide. Calm waters are initially encountered at realities edge between the known and unknown; a shoreline’s pulsating movement as revealing as our questioning mind. What draws us near and allows gentle waves to wash over our curious entrance into fathomless waters? How compelling to be drawn to a reality we can not fully enjoy without separating ourselves from the security we stand upon.

    As often as the shoreline beckons, each encounter is as varied as the time of day and weather conditions that create the intriguing crests we gaze upon and strive to comprehend. Calm, sun drenched, glassy surfaces as compelling as blackened nights of icy cold swells cascading and crashing one upon the other; peaks and valleys of life often as contrasting.

    Life is a journey seeking meaning and purpose, the line between as unpredictable as the water’s edge. The quest, pulling at the certainty of our known and drawing us to experience the unknown, calling us to wade further out beyond our comfort zone until separated from the security our perceived truths rest upon – separated from this world and welcomed aboard an existence untethered to our certainties, residing upon the crests and swells only He controls.

    God’s love and gift of Spirit are most comforting, providing the faith and courage to sustain us during our new todays and inspire us to embrace our new tomorrows. His love is our safe harbor, continually calling us to the water’s edge, to the convergence of secular and Spiritual existences we seek. As we set course, balance, harmony and inner peace are attained by letting go, by gently loosening the mooring lines of life and trusting the buoyancy of our faith, secure in the knowledge that during a raging storm we can trust in Him and His promises, that His hand and embrace will see us through, calling to us as He did to Peter in Matthew 14: 27–32

    Jesus hastened to reassure them. “Get hold of yourselves! It is I. Do not be afraid!” Peter spoke up and said, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water!” “Come!” he said. So Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water, moving towards Jesus. But when he perceived how strong the wind was, becoming frightened, he began to sink and cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus at once stretched out his hand and caught him. “How little faith you have!” he exclaimed. “Why did you falter?” Once they had climbed into the boat, the wind died down.
    – New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition.

    Each one of us is called in a very personal way. Life, our journey to discover, embrace, nurture and share the gifts we have been given. When we answer His call, He will be there for us, hand extended. “Come!”

    In Him, we ‘can’ walk on water.

  3. Finisterre… that ache for the ocean was one of the reasons I had to reach the coast in Spain (even if by car). The ocean is both thrilling and meditative for me.

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