As you walk the beach, it is hard to carry much: a pail, maybe the hand of another. But the beachcomber is most commonly seen up and down shore with little in their hands. Eyes focused on the sand or shoreline seeking treasure. Often there is a look that is a little out of focused, contemplative or meditative in nature. Beachcombing has that effect.
This August, we are looking at things we love to see and know God’s love in the ordinary. God’s love is known through the scripture AND God’s love is also spoken through the quotidian and ordinary which we love. Pastor Jim grounded us last week as we began with the reminder to love God and our neighbor. Where have we known God’s love in the books, movies, art, culture, and every day. We will use this as a method to explore: where have we found God’s love and been urged to DO LOVE?
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, known more popularly for being the wife of Charles, for Lindy flier, and the mother of the kidnapped Lindbergh baby, was the author of 11 books. One of which, Gift from the Sea, began as her own reflections in 1955 as she was approaching her 50th birthday. Written as entrée to the environmental movement, I have been moved by the connection with faith formational stages inherent in the meditative walk on ocean.
Lindbergh observes as one who has chased after a shell caught in a wave has found out: “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.(1)”
Beachcombing makes theologians of us all. Unencumbered, our vacations give us freedom to explore ideas and philosophical and theological ponderings. Lindbergh began this book on Captiva island in Florida as notes to herself around different shells that she found and their connection with life stages and growth potentials. Those who are linearly minded, might be tempted to chart this; I warn you now, like this the tides, this is more cyclical.
Our gospel lesson today was an unusual way to begin speaking about gifts, I admit. Let me start here. One bad decision often invites another. Herod Antipas gave governance to Galilee and Perea as Jewish governor from the years approximately 6 to 29 after the birth of Christ. While he was elsewise initially married, he met and fell in love with Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Herod II. His divorce from the first wife caused the declaration of war from his father-in-law, King Aretas, IV, and locally criticism from John the baptizer. John the Baptist accurately noted, it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias. The biblical scene places us at Herod’s birthday.
His daughter, Salome has just danced. Herod extravagantly offers a gift, “anything she wishes”. This is not the attitude of the gift of the sea, in which one is not too greedy or too impatient. This is not the attitude of the verse from James in which every good and perfect gift comes from above.
Salome goes to her mother for advice, because this is immoderate and lavish. Boundaries have been crossed. For an adult to offer this kind of a gift to a burgeoning teenager is inappropriate. Salome is being used a pawn between her parents. The head of John the Baptist on a platter is not a gift. Life is precious, a gift, not to be wasted or taken away. Rather to be gently and contemplatively engaged. Let us hold that with juxtaposition as the disciples who bury John, do the rest of their lives.
Peter, our son, makes friends easily. So, it was no surprise that we spent an hour searching up snails in conchs on the beach. He made friends with a little guy and his dad who were collecting them in a ballcap. Splashing in the tide pools, digging in the sand, watching the hermit crabs and the snails crawl, we observed together these friends of all sizes! How easily these crustaceans shed their shells and adapt to a new home. For us to be so adaptable, we need to be deeply at peace, both with others and with self. What can you shed to seek peace?
There are seasons of life when you are never alone. There are seasons of life when you miss those seasons, for sure. The moon shell also sometimes called the nautilus or the cat’s eye is a solitude reminder. The moon hangs in the sky by itself. While in coordination within a solar system, it alone has the distinction of being the moon. Where have you found time and space amid the busy and frenzied pace of life to find moments of solitude?
To find a single shell in perfect condition fills you with such exhilaration, that to find a double is almost over the moon! The next shell, Lindbergh calls a double sunrise, a bivalve or a muscle shell. “It is a valid image for the first stage: two flawless halves bound together with single hinge, meeting each other at every point, the dawn of a new day spreading on each face… it is however, a little room and must be inevitably outgrown. Beautiful, fragile, fleeting, the sunrise shell, but not for all that illusory.(2) ” When you find yourself in fresh, loving, exhilarating relationships, where are you finding joy?
But a season that does not fleet is the next. The oyster beds are not rare. You will find many, many oyster shells, but each is a little different. Each oyster shaped and formed to its own need to thrive and survive. Some are a bit more stretched out, and others are a bit more tidy. Some are uneven, and some have barnacles growing along. Many find grounding in each other. Each with space for others, whoever the others might be. Where are you making space and finding the gift of the others in your life now?
The Argonauta highlights the movement in our life as we move from the need of permanency and stability to intermittency and change. Once we have insisted on needing to understand it all – faith, politics, family structure, life, we find that there is movement and motion in everything. Relationship and love, faith and community move in ebb and flow. “One cannot dance well unless one is completely in time with the music, not leaning back to the last step or pressing forward to the next one but poised directly on the present step as it comes.(3)” Where is the Holy Spirit breathing hope as you are present in each moment?
And then perhaps regrettable, but certainly grounding reality of having to return home hits each of us as we return from vacation sand still encrusted, but with the shells in our pockets. Each season finds a different discovery of the rhythm of life. We need a different kind of faith and tether as we are heading out in life as when we are taking care. Maria Shriver says this: “And I think it will always be the case that people will struggle to provide, parent, partner, caretake. I think life is complicated, and life is difficult; and life is also great, and life is sad. It’s all of that, and all in one day; it can happen all in one day, and that that’s life and not to be scared of that and to know that that’s more normal than abnormal.(4)” This is the grace we offer one another in each of the seasons as the tide ebbs and flows.
You and I are invited to consider how we receive the invitation to God’s gifts. Do we like Salome and Herodias put other’s lives in danger to secure our places of power or do we receive natural occurrence as a gift giving insight into the human condition or theology? God’s presence is near and inviting you into reflection and discernment. Whether you are meeting God in the mountains or the beach, at the office or the kitchen table, may the God of us all be known to you pause to seek God’s wisdom through the rhythms of life.
This is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(1) Lindberg, Anne Morrow. Gift from the Sea., 1955, 11.
(2) Ibid., 69-70.
(3) Ibid, 99.
(4) On Being Interview with Maria Shriver https://onbeing.org/programs/maria-shriver-finding-my-i-am-may2018/
New Testament Lesson: James 1:16-18
Do not be deceived, my beloved.
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias[e] came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, August 12 ~ Saturday, August 18
Sunday: “Do not be deceived, my beloved.” James 1:16. Pray for all those who are injured and caught up in deception.
Monday: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17. Consider how everything is a gift.
Tuesday: “In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” James 1: 18. Where is God teaching you about generosity of God?
Wednesday: “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’” Mark 6:14. How will your name be known? For the positive impact you have made or the challenges you have cause others?
Thursday: “for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” Mark 6:20. Consider that when you find yourself in positions that you are between making good and bad decisions, often you know the holy things to do. Let the Holy Spirit move you.
Friday: “The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” Mark 6: 26. True gifts are not hurtful. Gifts of God do not cause pain to others.
Saturday: “When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.” Mark 6: 29. Pray for those who are caught in the midst of tragedy and work for justice.