by Elaine Breckenridge, featured photo: Waves at English Boom, Camano Island
During the lockdown days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, personal rhythms of life were interrupted. I found myself outdoors more than ever. Instead of going out to dinner, I went out to a sunset. I staked out a pew for myself in a local state park where I worshipped with the birds and the trees. I started a blog (which never went public) and titled it, “Finding my Rhythm.”
My interest in rhythm was first awakened when I began to study Celtic Spirituality. Authors like Esther de Waal and John O’Donohue had much to say about the subject. In her book, The Celtic Way of Prayer, de Waal describes how much of Celtic Christian Spirituality was shaped by monasticism. Praying at key times of the day was not just reserved for monks in monasteries. Lay people developed their own rhythms of spirituality and punctuated the day and their chores with prayers and blessings. Some prayers were accompanied by ritual gestures. Men greeted the sun first thing in the morning by doffing their hats. Women greeted the moon by offering a generous bow. De Vaal described such rhythms of prayer and rituals as holistic, writing:
“I am reminded that as a human being living on this earth, I am a part of the pattern of day and night, darkness and light, the waxing and waning of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun. The whole of my Self is inserted into the rhythm of the elements and I can learn something of the ebb and flow of time and of life itself.”
In his book, Anam Cara, O’Donohue also makes connections between nature and spirituality:
“All life came out of the ocean; each one of us comes out of the waters of the womb; the ebb and flow of the tides is alive in the ebb and flow of our breathing…To be spiritual is to be in rhythm.”
I have always been fascinated by the ebb and flow of the tides. Moving to Camano Island in Washington State has been the perfect place to practice inserting myself into their rhythm. Camano Island is visibly governed by the rhythm of tides especially at a nature preserve called English Boom, overlooking Skagit Bay. Sometimes the water laps at your feet on the beach. At other times you can barely see the water far off in the distance. These changing tides offer me guidance in my spiritual journey.
One day, I took a walk at the beach, knowing that the flood tide was going to be higher than usual. I also knew that its peak would be in thirty minutes. I walked quickly on the familiar trail. I reached the end of the trail and was exhilarated to see the fast-moving currents. Immediately I headed back the way I came. Oops! I had miscalculated the reality of both the height and speed of the high tide. As I approached my bridge to gain access to the end of trail, I saw the flood tide had washed over a section of the bridge.
There was no going around it, only going through it. As I stepped off the bridge, I was surprised how far I sank. The water was past my knees! Perhaps had I lingered longer at the end of the trail, I might have found myself up to my waist and forced to swim!
What I learned from the incident of being up to my knees in water is that living my own rhythm often involves trial and error. The rhythm of my life has changed significantly since I retired from full-time parish ministry and I am still experimenting. The ebb and flow between grandparenting, now working part-time, attending to old projects and developing new interests is sometimes chaotic. I have at times over-focused on one of these aspects and found myself “in the deep end” and have been frustrated with my choices.
I had always favored visiting the preserve when it was near high tide. But one day I visited the beach when the tide was at its lowest point. What a revelation! So often I had looked up at the sky and out at the rolling waves. On this day I looked down to the ground and in between the rocks and discovered that the Earth was teeming with life. What the tide had brought in was magnificent!
Seeing the landscape in this new light, I began to think about my own inner landscape. It made me realize how much I craved excitement like the rolling high tide. I began to see the value in slowing down and enjoying my energy when it is at its ebb. It has given me courage to explore my shadow. What might be hidden between the rocks and the hard places of my life? I am discovering new life in surprising places.
In Anam Cara, O’Donohue has also written, “There is a unique destiny for each person. Each of us has something to do here that can be done by no one else. If you can awaken this kind of destiny, you come into rhythm with your life.”
Following the tides is helping me to accept and celebrate that I have my own unique rhythm and it is all good. It is my nature to swell and recede and it is time to enjoy it!
“Finding my rhythm?” I don’t think so. If I ever do launch that blog, I will need to give it another name. Today, I bow to the Gershwin brothers as I claim, “I got rhythm! Who could ask for anything more?”
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