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A Walk on the Beach July 21, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.

This is how God speaks to me:

On an island with no roads, it doesn’t take long to get away from the bustling crowd. When that crowd only arrives by ferry every half hour in bunches of, oh, 18 or so, there’s really not that much bustle in the first place. So it was that I took a walk on the beach at Bear Island in North Carolina.

Most of our little crew set off together, looking for seashells and roaming up and down the impossibly soft sand. When the group decided to turn back, I kept going. In the words of Milne, I had in mind a “long explore”.

My first goal was to wander far enough away that not another person was in sight. That was easy, though I passed a pair of unoccupied beach chairs a good distance off. Once those were out of sight I stopped, looked around, and breathed the fresh air of unadulterated creation. A wave lapped at my feet, a steady wind cooled my face, and with it all my senses steadily heightened.

Walking on, I played a game of tag with a flock of sandpipers. They kept a wary distance ahead of me, ever-attentive to my obtrusive presence but occupied with their task at hand, pecking the shallowest water for some buried treats. They walked ahead of me until they grew tired of walking. If I had wings, I would quickly grow tired of walking. All at once they took flight, following some unidentified leader in a thrilling dance over the waves.

According to a map I’d seen I was at least two miles from the end of the island, and when I had walked for some time and still couldn’t discern an end to the strand of sand in the sunlit mist ahead of me, I decided to venture away from the water for a time. The first dune I climbed was probably 10 or 12 feet high, held in place by sea oats. The view from the top revealed a wild habitat on the other side – part desert, part jungle.

From my perspective the dunes looked like the vast mountain ranges I’ve seen from the windows of airplanes. Each miniature mountain showed fewer signs of the beach as I progressed toward the island’s interior. I almost stepped on a cactus on the second row of dunes. On the third I saw a line of strange, shuffling tracks in the sand and I wondered what sort of critter left them, and whether or not he was watching me with the same curiosity. Still further, small trees emerged, twisted by the wind to look like stooped old hags. All the while, I marveled that God had dreamt all this up, maybe for me to enjoy at that moment, but more likely for God Himself to enjoy. Such is the pleasure of creativity.

On the way back to the beach I saw a stirring image. In a patch of cactus tucked behind a dune a ghost crab had died and was buried in an entirely natural funeral. Only his claw emerged from the sand, like a headstone.

It was hotter in the dunes, so my arrival back to the beach was refreshing. I walked to the water, to firm sand, and in full voice I sang praises. Rich Mullins gave me my words:

“And if I were a painter I do not know which I’d paint
The calling of the ancient stars, or the assembling of the saints
There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see
But everywhere I go, I’m looking.

And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America.”

Duly impressed and humbled and overjoyed, I trod back to my own species. Along the way I found a “mermaid’s purse” on the sand – a fascinating black egg case from a skate – and I learned why those unoccupied beach chairs had been placed so far from the crowd. A single inopportune glance at the now-occupied chairs and the gentleman’s infinitesimal thong explained quite well. I rejoined our family on that last day of our vacation, and on the ferry ride back to the mainland and the car ride back to Atlanta and still today, I am clinging to a walk on the beach.



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