About this time of year, get a bit antsy waiting for winter to finally be over – for good. One of the things about Indiana I’ve found difficult to get used to all these years is that it takes so long to get warm. I used to be able to get my warm fix during Spring Break, but with kids grown, without the school calendar to dictate things, I find myself only able to daydream about beaches – and I do daydream about beaches!
Beaches are a crucial part of my psychological and spiritual well-being. For ten years of my childhood I was in Southern California and on Fridays my family would head to the beach with our pop-up camper. We’d swim and build sand castles (the free form drip kind were my favorite) and explore tide pools. When the sun went down we’d build a bonfire and roast marshmallows. On Saturday evening we’d return home so my dad could preach on Sunday morning.
During high school years we lived on Old Hickory Lake outside of Nashville. It wasn’t the beach, but it was water, and there was enough wind to power my dad’s tiny sail boat.
And then there were our family vacations to Florida each summer. Those days were amazing – miles of beach to walk and plenty of sand to create masterpiece castles, or dig huge holes (there’s something bizarrely fun about digging a HUGE hole in the sand!).
I’m sure all of us have a place that we find particularly restful and regenerative; for me, it happens to be the beach. There’s something inexplicably rejuvenating about the feel of warm sand beneath my feet and hot sun on my shoulders, the sound of waves and sea gulls, and the soft chhh-shhh’g of the sand as I walk. And the wind. There’s something special about the wind on a beach – the way it smells, the way it feels on my face, the way it sounds in my ears.
For me, beaches are special because of the intimacy. Things are close at the beach. No matter how vast the ocean is, its waves come right up to lap at your toes. No matter how far the sand stretches, it still holds on to your footprints. No matter how loudly the wind roars in your ears, there’s a peace that surrounds you as you walk. No matter how hard it may feel to talk to someone you love in other places, at the beach the difficulty seems to be swept away with the wind and washed away with the waves as together you walk the long stretches of sand.
It’s the intimacy the beach offers that allows me to reconnect with family I’ve gone far too long without seeing. It’s that closeness that allows me share in ways I might not otherwise do if I was in a living room or a restaurant.
As Christ followers, we’ve been given a three-fold way of relating to God. We have God, who relates to us as creator; we have the same God, who came among us as Jesus; and we have the same God, who remains in us through God’s Holy Spirit. An awesome mystery.
I find envisioning the first part somewhat difficult. God, who created the universe, is just too big, too grand, too amazing for me to fully absorb or understand. About all I can do is stand in awe and praise and gratitude.
Jesus is a bit easier. The vast sea that is God comes lapping at my toes in Jesus. Where I’m rendered motionless in awe and wonder by God the creator, I can walk and talk with Jesus. For me, Jesus is God in skin and bones; and when I want to understand what God’s like, I look at Jesus. My relationship with God, which starts with this too-big-ness, somehow becomes more intimate with Jesus.
Then there’s the Spirit. Somehow the Spirit holds it all together. That may sound odd because for some people the Spirit is just too vague. But for me the Spirit holds everything together. When I immerse myself in the Jesus way, it’s the Spirit that bridges my spiritual gaps – the gap between God, the awesome Creator of the Universe and Jesus, the God with skin and bones; the gap between the man Jesus who lived in Galilee and the living Christ who dwells in me.
I think the Spirit holds it together for me because it’s a wind thing. That’s how the Bible describes the Spirit. The Hebrew word used to talk about the Spirit is ruah and the Greek word is pneuma. Both literally mean wind or breath. Though you can’t see the wind, when it’s there, you know it. You can feel it; and see the way it affects the world around you; you can hear the Spirit’s voice rustling softly or rushing powerfully or roaring mightily.
And that takes me back to the beach. The wind moves through all the things I love about the beach. It’s the wind that brings me closer to myself and closer to God. It’s the rustle of the wind in my ears that makes me feel as though I’m the only one in the world – lost in my thoughts as I walk – in my hopes and dreams, my problems and fears, my challenges and decisions. It’s also the rush of the wind, in my ears, on my face, in my hair, that makes me more attuned to God’s presence as I walk – God present in my hopes and dreams, my problems and fears, my challenges and decisions.
God comes to us in many ways. For me, God comes on the wind. For you it may be different. But no matter how it happens, God always comes to us. The challenge for me is to not wait to get back to the beach to realize it.