There’s a Christian praise and worship song adrift out there somewhere that goes, “There’s something about the ocean that makes me rise up in praise.” I sing it to myself every time I go to the beach. Sometimes I even find it stuck in my head just remembering or planning for a trip to the shore.
The beach is my sacred space. Doesn’t matter which one, as long as there’s sand and sea and God and me. It does something to my soul that no other geography on earth can manage, no matter how breath-taking it might be in its own way. In the Bible the ocean symbolizes chaos– the primordial, the unknown. It is, after all, what God is always separating from itself to form dry, stable land for us to stand on, first in Creation and then for the Israelites to escape to their true home away from captivity in Egypt. But it’s also life, so God leaves us edges where the risky, refreshing water and the solid, dry land still touch and learn from one another. We can still wiggle our toes in the surf and let our heels slowly sink into the healing water teeming with the fish and everything else God made on the 5th day. It is steady even in its turmoil. Shorelines change with the tide and the weather, but they are still themselves as they ebb and flow. Hurricanes and storms and whatever else wreak their havoc, but the ocean is steady. She’s too deep to be moved. Her surface may crash and rock and just generally pitch a fit of rage, but she is rooted in her place and she returns to serenity soon enough.
She doesn’t back down in shame after one of her tantrums, drying up in remorse for having been moved by the force of God. She, like us, is battered but holds on. Whatever else she’s just been through, she doesn’t abandon her place or her fish who call her home. She comes back to equilibrium sooner or later. She is unpredictable and yet utterly reliable, her moods easily read by those who know her well. I trust her. I love her. And every time I visit her I leave with a heart full because I have been to have my soul restored by a dear old friend.
I’ve started carrying sand home with me from the beaches I visit to keep in an old wine bottle labeled with the date and location of the trip, a memento from the journey since I don’t live close enough to go as often as I’d like. A few weeks ago I knocked the bottle over, ruining the clean lines dividing Wilmington from Sunset Beach from Destin, and I started to cry. “It’s ok,” Matthew assured me. “You can still mostly see which is which. And, listen, it might be mixed up, but it’s all beach.” Of course, he’s right, and I’m learning to like that all the things and people and seasons of life represented in each shade and texture of sand from each particular beach bleed into one another a little bit now. It’s a truer picture of a life lived in beauty and peace on the edge of chaos, which is just exactly what life on the shore represents. It’s why living in a house at the beach is an absolute non-negotiable on my bucket list. But reaching that dream is still a ways off.
The closest I come to it for now is the “ocean breathing” (technically called ujjayi breath which is Sanskrit for victorious breath) portion in my yoga practice, where I take slow, deliberate, deep inhalations and exhalations that sound like the tide. The gentle wooshing in and out through my nose and throat echoes my beloved ocean tide, reminding me that I’m part of something bigger and deeper and stronger than I feel. It’s the basis of the entire practice that sets the pace and guides the rest of my motion as I flow through the poses. Just a little breath, a little breeze, that steers the whole ship. It’s become the most important part of my day, this time of kinetic prayer. It’s an intentional connection to the Holy Spirit, the Breath of Life, who is always with me but rarely acknowledged. The simple act of stopping to greet Her does wonders for my soul. I suspect it could do wonders for yours, too.
So take just five minutes and try it. I know, I know, I’m a huge hippie and this all sounds a little silly if you’ve never done it, but it works. Seriously. Give it a shot. Stop where you are, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Slow breaths in, slow breaths out, steady like the tide. Just take a few minutes to be still and know that God is with you.