As I minister, I’ve heard people claim they didn’t need a church to worship God. They’ve told me that God could be found anywhere – even on a beach.
So last week, I went to the beach to see if God indeed had beachfront property.
It had been one of those weeks where the inconsistencies of my faith had been apparent to more than just myself. It was one of those weeks where I was longing to simply be the same person I had been the previous week.
As I parked my car beachside, I told God the ground rules. “I just need a moment to double check stuff with you – a moment to make sure you’re still covering my back. So I thought I’d say howdy here at the beach. I know that you make every day special, but today I’m needing this day to be extra.”
So, on the water’s edge, I found an isolated rock and quickly breached its top. Sitting atop the rock with my soul exposed, I began searching the waves for some kind of epiphany. As I searched, the cold wind seemed to pound my heart like a burglar’s hammer hoping to unlock a treasure and I hid my face beneath my sweatshirt’s hood.
>From this rock, I was hoping to find a still place, a place where I
>could both hide and be exposed, see and be seen – a place high enough
>to make my prayer heard but low enough to nurture humility.
My prayer began:
Lord, find what I’ve hidden
Touch what I’ve hurt
Open what I’ve closed
Teach what I wouldn’t learn
Fill the places I’ve emptied
And empty what consumes me.
Release what I’ve captured
Hold what escapes me
Invade what I defend
And defend what I’ve surrounded
Opening my eyes and watching the sun set across the waves I concluded, “Wow! God really does own beachfront property!”
As I climbed off the rock, I notice my children writing messages in the sand. And like one of a kid Etch-a-Sketch turned upside down, the messages in the sand were quickly rinsed away in the finicky waves.
It was a metaphor that I saw my pastor reenact the next day in church.
While church is usually a more traditional place to seek God, my pastor often works outside of tradition. That Sunday morning, he’d brought a tub of sand and placed it on the altar. During Communion, he challenged us to come and write in the sand the thing which separates us from being the person that God created us to be.
So, there in the dimly lit altar of sand, I imagined myself back on the beach. I saw myself climbing off that rock, and in my heart’s imagination I could feel the water flush my shoes with frozen tickles. I felt myself sloshing through wet sand, clouding the water where I walked.
Still meditating on the pastor’s challenge, I saw myself come to the wet sand where the waves swept every third wave or so. There, I wrote the thing that seemed to separate me so often from God.
Now, standing amidst several others who’d come to the altar, I wrote the word “Self.”
Then, as quickly as I’d written it, the pastor told us to smooth over it. “As scripture promises,” he told us, “God erases our failures. God stands ready to separate us from our failures as ‘far as the east is from the west.'”
Wow, God had a residence here in my sandy church as well. On the previous day, I had encountered God on a rock. Now on this Sunday, the rock on the beach had moved to my place in the pew.
It’s easy to find rocks. What’s hard about rocks is figuring out what to do with them.
Will we hide under them? Will we proclaim from them? Will we fight to defend them? Will we throw them?
Or will we use them as touchstones to a higher place where we can see beyond ourselves? My guess is that sacred ground can be found in many places. Sometimes God finds us in Sunday hymns and other times, God find us in the seaside winds.