by Christine Sine
Like many of us, I have been thinking a lot over the last couple of weeks about the things that I will miss out on this summer because of the restrictions that COVID 19 has placed on our lives. One usual delight for me is the opportunity to go to Mayne Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands with good friends for a few days of relaxation and fun. The house we rent is right on the beach and we spend many hours walking the beach, collecting shells, rocks, sea glass and other interesting objects.
Beach combing is one of my favorite summer activities I love walking along, preferably barefoot, with my head down breathing in the salt air and listening to the waves lapping on the shore. The world seems to fade away and I walk in a quiet oasis with the rhythm of God’s heartbeat and the fragrant salty tang of God’s breath soothing my spirit.
A Beach Combing Meditation Garden
Since that won’t be possible this year, I decided to create a new summer meditation garden around the theme of beach combing. I have pulled out some of my favorite collected treasures and spent longer than I should have reminiscing as I arranged them in my bowl.
Margaret Silf’s book Landscapes of Prayer has been my companion in this process.
She explains that:
When I walk the seashore, I meet in that one sacred space, both the immanent and the transcendent God. The ocean stretches out as far as my eye can see, and way beyond, just as the sense of the divine lies far beyond any human understanding. And yet that same ocean laps at my feet and deposits all kinds of very ordinary objects on the shore for me to discover as I do my beach combing – objects that may have stories to tell me about who I am and who God is for me, and how our realities embrace in this ordinary-extraordinary space where the water meets the land. (Landscapes of Prayer: Finding God in Your World and Your Life – Margaret Silf (24,25)
This quote is followed by the story of Jesus making breakfast on the beach for his friends and in her narrative, Margaret likens this to a beach BBQ where the aroma wafts across the shore to the disciples inviting them to breakfast and a new beginning. For months afterwards I could not smell BBQ without imagining that scene and seeing Jesus beckoning me to join him for a fish breakfast.
She suggests that beach combing is a wonderful way to pray and adapts the Prayer of Examen to fit into this context but last year, I created my own discernment process from her questions. This year, as I process the trauma of COVID, and the anguish of Black Lives Matter, I find myself adapting that process yet again for the current situation. So I hope you will enjoy the reflective process below that has come out of this.
Beach Combing Meditation
Pick up a seashell, piece of driftwood, or other favorite found treasure. Settle into a comfortable space, close your eyes and imagine yourself walking across the beach towards Jesus as he beckons you to enjoy the BBQ he has prepared for you and for his other disciples. Sit and savour that experience of holy companionship for a couple of minutes.
What treasures have you discovered in the ordinary landscape of the last few months that caught your attention with delight and joy, bringing you new life as they connected you to God, to yourself and to others? My awe and wonder walks with my husband each morning is one of my greatest treasures of these weeks of isolation. These are the treasures that have transformed what could have been a very painful and traumatic time into extraordinary time, shaping both my faith and life in unexpected and precious ways.
Who or what has nourished and enriched your life helping you to find new depths of faith and healing the hurts and broken places that have come to the surface during this time? My husband Tom’s supportiveness and encouragement is the most sustaining and wonderful gift that has built my confidence as I continue to stretch myself beyond my comfort zones. I am rich in other nourishing influences too. My garden, both its beauty and its productivity nourish my spirit and my soul relaxing and growing not just me but all who enter it. The small intentional community in which we live provides companionship, laughter and fun as we all share our isolated lives together.
What waves lap at the boundaries of your life, either gently, bringing rest and calm from stress, or crashing like storm waves with tumult and destruction to your well ordered plans? Lots of crashing storm waves at the moment, but also gentle, soothing ones.
This stressful season has made me realize how important my contemplative practices and my breathing prayers are. These are the gentle waves that calm my soul and nourish my spirit helping me to relax in the midst of my anxiety.
The waves that crash like storm waves are the stories of those much more deeply impacted than I am by this virus and by the racial inequality it has highlighted – hospital workers, migrant farmers, the entire African American community here in the U.S. and other vulnerable members of our communities. I realize as I think about this that it is these storm waves, not the gentle ones that both uncover and deposit new treasures – maybe new understanding, deeper compassion and generosity’ stronger cries for justice welling up from within.
As you look back over your beach today, have you left a trail of footprints that need to be washed away by the loving presence of God – things you wish you had handled differently that have left you with regrets, guilt, anxiety? I always feel that I should be doing more than I am – speaking out more strongly for justice or being more generous and compassionate. This can paralyze me and immobile me. I sit this morning watching as the cleansing flow of the rising tide washes away these regrets and feelings of guilt and I feel refreshed and made new again.
As you bring your prayer to a close, gather up your treasures. How will you display them for future remembrances or where will you store them? As I look at my collection I wonder what new creative practices they could stir within me. Last year I collected several different colored rocks on my beach combing journey. I shaped them first into a question mark and then into a circle reminding myself that questions help bring wholeness and completeness. This year I used shells from my last trip to Australia. Those symbols, combined with the use of my new beach comber’s garden will continue to lead me on a journey towards wholeness.
Now as I look to the future I wonder what does God want me to learn from my beach combing experience that will help shape the months to come? As I think about this, the image of Jesus on the beach comes to me again and I imagine that he is once more beckoning me to come and join him and all his disciples in a feast, a feast that is spread out for all the peoples of the world. This is a feast that I long to sit at and partake of, but know that to fully appreciate it I must continue to work for justice and freedom for those who are currently excluded from the feast.
Discernment comes in many shapes and forms I realize. In the meditative process of beach combing, I learn the need to relax and allow the waves to shape who I am becoming, and what our world is becoming. Not easy but essential at this time.