I’m on Cape Cod for one more glorious day, so you’ll have to bear with me for another travel/vacation/sea metaphor. I may also be out of sync with Chris’s journey through the psalms. Let’s see…
Sometimes I find I’m most disoriented when I’m working hardest to stay oriented to where I think God’s presence should be. I was reminded of this over the past week, when my husband, our son, and I walked the beaches near Falmouth in search of sea glass. The shards of broken bottles wash ashore, the sharp edges buffed dull, the clear glass scratched and cloudy after the ocean takes a castoff bottle, breaks it, and reshapes it into something new. The pieces are usually fairly small, and the coastline here is rocky, the beaches comprised of gritty sand mixed with thousands of shells and pebbles.
Needle in a haystack, eh? In order to find the sea glass you have to hunch over, elbows on knees, and peer into a puzzle of rock and shell and seaweed that happens to be almost the exact same color as a broken Heineken bottle in search of tiny shards of clear, brown, and green glass.
This is actually fun, until I made it a goal to find as much sea glass as I could on this trip. One morning we set out. I moved along the shore, stooped over like a witch in a fairy tale, peering resolutely at the beach. The landscape isn’t static either. As waves wash onto the beach the rocks and shells tumble and shift under the weight of the water. I grew increasingly annoyed because I wasn’t finding any sea glass. I’m on vacation. Sea glass is cool. I want to find as much of it as I can.
In the middle of my increasingly unpleasant quest I realized that this search is like reading the psalms. By searching the beach for only one thing – sea glass – I was missing lots of other things. This is what I found when I didn’t find what I was looking for:
And these rocks:
All in the same short stretch of beach. When I searched the beach for one specific thing I was in danger of missing something different but equally beautiful. The same truth applies to reading the psalms (or the Bible, for that matter) for one right answer, or seeking God where God used to be for us. If we come to the psalms in our disoriented state, allow ourselves to be disoriented, feel the uncertainty in our lives, Spirit will wash over us like the waves ebbed and flowed on the beach, turning and buffing and scratching us. When it recedes something different but equally beautiful emerges, like the little nuggets in the psalms.
Eventually I did find some beach glass:
To be honest, it was a little bit of a letdown after the shells and rocks. It’s hard to go back to what we thought we wanted once we’ve experienced the mysteries offered up by God’s ocean. Disorientation isn’t fun, and sometimes it’s masked by stubborn determination to orient ourselves the way we used to, the way we always have. But God’s presence is as big as the ocean, and sometimes the best way to find what we didn’t know we wanted, let alone needed, is to submerge ourselves in that ocean, feel the shifting currents and tides, and wait until something beautiful and unexpected appears to guide us.
Beautiful and powerful.