We went to the sea again for our post-paschal outing, and not a moment too soon. It had been about seven months since the last time I had been to the coast—way too long! After the exhausting (though blessed) experience of Holy Week and Easter, it was time to head for the deep blue sea. Turns out it was gray more often than blue, since the weather was not entirely cooperative, but the sea has her charms at all times.
When we arrived the weather was warm and bright. As soon as I finished helping unload the vehicles, I made a beeline for the water. I don’t think the other brothers are quite as captivated as I am by the sea, but I was in great need of this medicine for the soul. I plopped a chair as close to the cliff-edge as I dared (it’s nice having an ocean in one’s own back yard) and immersed my senses in the blessed sights and sounds of the pacific Pacific.
“Near restful waters He leads me; He restores my soul” (Ps 22/23). I can hardly think of anything I’d rather do than sit by the sea. I could listen to the soothing sound of the surf as the background music of my whole life. Sea-birds gliding over the surface of the sea, land-birds singing in the trees—it was a symphony conducted by the Most High in his overflowing joy. By the will of the Spirit, the sun sent “tongues of fire” to dance upon the waters in the dazzling coruscations and endless shimmering patterns of bright glory.
I sat there for a couple of hours, breathing in the peace. There are times when one’s sheer existence is prayer, and I effortlessly inserted myself into the chorus of praise all around me. At length I reluctantly rose, knowing that the sun was predicted to go into hiding for a couple days, but still hoping for some adventures on the coming misty morning.
Misty it was, and in fact the next day was as gray as they come, but not without brief flashes of light and some delightful surgings of the sea. I drove to Mendocino (about a rosary away from the place we were staying) and discovered with some initial dismay that quite a few people were already there. This dark and chilly March afternoon was hardly an invitation for tourism. As I exited my car I was further dismayed to see some young people hanging around their cars, eating and drinking and playing loud music! Now I’m not totally against such music, but it sounded like blasphemy next to God’s magnificent ocean, which produces a music more sublime than any contemporary composition—didn’t those people know that the sea was proclaiming the glory of God? I consoled myself with the fact that as I approached the shore, all man-made music would be silenced by the spell of the sea.
Anyway, I made my way down the steep and rugged path to my favorite spot at ocean’s edge. The sky was threatening but the sea was happily wild and rough, thundering in its mighty power and irrepressible mirth. I took a few pictures, but stills can never begin to communicate the dynamism of the perpetual motion and dizzying heaving of the great waters. After I look at my pictures, I realize that they look pretty much like the pictures I took the last time. But the moment itself is always fresh and new.
I like to sit as close to the incoming tide as possible, but this, I realize (and never learn my lesson), is a temptation for the sea that it cannot resist. I set my chair on a rocky shelf at the shoreline, confident that as the waves approached I could just lift my legs and let them pass harmlessly beneath me. This worked well—for a while. Suddenly I was caught off guard by an adventurous phalanx of foam, which moderately splattered me with brine. I decided to move to slightly higher ground, thinking I’d outsmarted the sea once again. But with a mighty roar she soon broadsided me and completed the job. The sea always wins—always. But I cheerfully admitted defeat at her hands. Hey, that’s why I go there, to challenge her cunning and her might, and to be playfully trounced in response.
I’ve sometimes said (and I’m not the only one who’s said) that God is in some ways like the sea. It seems that the pendulum of the idea of God historically swings from a stern implacable Judge to a soft and friendly Savior, yet I think that in fact He is neither and both. Sometimes you just can’t give a straight answer—like the angel who appeared to Joshua. That stalwart warrior, not realizing who the angel was, said to him: “Are you with us or with our enemies?” The angel answered: “No.” So who was he with? He simply identified himself as the captain of the Lord’s armies. So what is God, stern or soft? “No.” God is God. God loves, God plays rough, God rejoices, God commands, God punishes, God forgives, God laughs, God weeps, God is restful, God is thundering, God blesses, God throws you in the sea and pulls you back out again (just ask Jonah) and hangs you out to dry. God sparkles, God sings, God overwhelms you like the tide and advances just as imperceptibly so. God wraps Himself around you and soaks into your soul.
God always wins, so let us joyfully accept defeat at his hands. God defeats sin and the power of darkness and death, so let us surrender these unto Him. God’s victory is our victory, and in the Kingdom to come we will shine like the sun on the laughing sea. And we will sing!