Friday, June 23, 2006

The Solitude of the Sea

I like to go to the ocean by myself, to enter into an enriching solitude. For me, the ocean isn’t a place to party but to pray, and to enter into a deep peace and spiritual refreshment.

As soon I found a strategic position on an outcropping of rock, I settled in to enjoy the view, as incoming waves slapped against the side of the rock, sending up playful white geysers that splattered all around me. I hope you aren’t one of those unfortunate people who have never been to an ocean (I’m partial to the Pacific, but I hear there are others, too). It’s not something you can readily imagine, and even the best of videos cannot adequately communicate its awe-inspiring grandeur, perpetual motion, and soothing song. For me it is like finding the fountain of youth, flushing my radiator, charging my batteries, defragmenting my disk, cleaning my closet, airing out my attic—whatever image works, it’s a rejuvenating immersion!

As I gazed out to the seeming infinity of its sparkling sapphire expanse, I also looked up into the boundless blue canopy of the sky and detected a slim decrescent moon—struggling to be noticed within the brighter shine of its elder brother—inching toward the slightly hazy horizon. I read in the psalms early that morning: “this is a holiday of the Lord’s own choosing,” so I knew it would be a blessed day.

To be in solitude at the sea is not, however, to be alone. Aside from the divine omnipresence, which seems almost tangible in this amphitheater of joy, I have a few other friends, like starfish and pelicans. We briefly acknowledge each other’s presence and then return to our respective reveries. I was not entirely without the company of my own species as well. From the sand a short drop below my rocky outpost arose the squeals of a few little girls who derived endless delight from fleeing each round of the advancing tide. After a while, however, they compelled me to conclude that the hour had indeed arrived for me to seek a more silent stretch of shoreline.

I turned my gaze from the western infinity to the southern shoreline to observe the white-crested waves gliding effortlessly but with great speed, as if they had some urgent business waiting on the shore. Row after row, they spent themselves in tumbling crashes on the sand. They’ve been doing this day and night for millions of years, but it’s always like seeing it for the first time, so enthralling is their majesty and power.

To speak of majesty and power is to refer, of course, to their Maker. But this time I thought more of mercy than majesty. We sometimes say in our penitential liturgies that our sins are more than the sands of the seashore. Yet behold, wave after wave of the Ocean of Mercy washes them clean! For every sin a new wave hurries to the shore, ready to scour the oft-trodden sand till it shines. It’s his nature, after all, to forgive. He delights to forgive; He must forgive. Do not disappoint his desire by your indifference toward repentance. Give the Lord the joy of forgiving your sins! Someday we will see clearly this torrent of everlasting love, and it will be our delight to plunge in it forever!

I prayed a modified “Jesus Prayer” by using the first and last lines of one of our Pentecost hymns: “Blessed are You, O Christ our God… O Lover of Man, glory to you!” It was so apropos to the moment, as were a few little verses from a hymn to the God-bearer Mary that I interspersed with the rest, like, “you are higher than the heavens, more radiant than the sun…” There were the heavens, there was the sun!

As a rather anti-climactic moment, when I was clambering down the rock, someone asked me (and this wasn’t the first time this happened): “See any whales?” So, that’s what my ecstatic contemplation looked like to the casual observer. So be it. I didn’t see any whales, but I saw the glory of God!

I seem not to be able to get enough. Each time I leave the shore, I feel like I haven’t stayed long enough, haven’t drunk in the whole ocean. I dream of someday having a little hermitage on the coast, though I don’t yet know if that is God’s will. Perhaps He wants me only to get a few glimpses of glory, lest I become surfeited and lose my thirst. Would I regard the ocean as the frustrated rural woman regarded the great mountain under whose shadow she lived, in the song, Penny to My Name: “It’s just a dumb ol’ mountain, I see it every day”? I’ve seen Mt Shasta, one of California’s mighty boasts, but if I lived right there, would its majesty eventually fade? I can’t imagine ever calling the Pacific a “dumb ol’ ocean,” but who knows? I leave it up to God, who has prepared infinitely greater gifts, and meanwhile I embrace my precious moments of glorious solitude by the sea.