I took more time away from this blog than I intended. But apparently I needed the rest. Part of my time away was spent at the beach. Over the next few weeks I plan to share a few reflections that grew out of that time. Walks along the shore, early morning rising before the sun was up to write, digging in the sand, photographing the landscape, and spending so much time outside was good for my soul. I want to share some of what I saw, heard, and noticed in those moments. The “beach memos” will be interspersed with other reflections and posts.
+ + + + + + + + + + +
Beach Memo I: First Things
First morning at the beach and I slide quietly out of bed to write in the still darkness of the morning before dawn. I tap out calcium and vitamin D into my hand and fill a glass with cold water. I move quietly around the condo, closing my daughter’s door hoping not to wake her.
At the sliding glass door that opens onto a balcony, I push the drapes back a little in each direction. Soon I am mesmerized by the light show of a storm rolling in from gulf to shore. What is more stunning, however, is between lightning strikes. A thin soft beam of light reaches down from the storm clouds to the churning ocean surface. I blink. And my mind does a literal double-take. I’m standing there in my flip flops and pajamas staring and taking my calcium one tablet at a time. Despite the stormy weather and the rolling waves, the beam of light hangs perfectly still, connecting watery earth and watery sky.
I know in the second fraction of a second that the light is a reflection on the sliding glass door. Down the hall behind me a nightlight is spilling its soft glow into the hallway from a partially open door. The reflection of a pale beam of light is an illusion, a sci-fi moment of “beaming up,” a visual trick. Despite this knowledge, my mind holds onto the significant tension: the light is at once a simple mirrored reflection, and it also holds something deeper. I embrace both ways of seeing.
Martin Laird says that the interior life of prayer, among other things when practiced steadily over years, slows one’s mind until it becomes possible to face each thought and feeling and experience head-on and without fear. All that happens in the context of an entire universe of divine presence where feelings, thoughts and experiences are really just “so much weather.” We are grounded in something more profound than the things that happen to us, the thoughts that float or race through our minds, or even the powerful feelings that crash relentlessly as waves or strike faster than lightening.
As I stand there with my attention rapt on the dark and stormy predawn sky, I have a new image for Laird’s concept of sunlit absence, or vast silence that is full of presence: a pale beam of light steady and unmoving while the sea roars and the storm rages. It is both there and not really there, a reflection, an illusion some might say. Yet the metaphor is as apparent and helpful as anything that has happened to me in days. I surrender myself to it, and in giving myself over, I see the steady sacred presence that fills my longing and nags me at each turn. I feel myself relax in the hope that something beyond me will indeed sustain me. It is there and not there at once. I’m afraid to look away.
I know I cannot photograph this image, this experience. I simply need to memorize it, so I keep looking. I’m not sure how long. But as calmness and clarity settle into my body, and I’m profoundly grateful that I pushed myself out of bed in the still darkness. The storm keeps rolling toward the shore and I see how the onslaught of all my emotions, set-backs, frustrations, disappointments are just so much weather as the connection between storm and sea holds steady in the beam of light. I let my mind flip back and forth between knowing where the light comes from – mere reflection – now steady presence – now sci-fi illusion – now profound grace. The space of being able to flip back and forth between illusion and metaphor is the deeper gift. The gift I need.
I know if I slide the door open, the light will be gone, the storm will remain, and I will have just a memory of the fullness of the moment. I let it stretch out longer. Then I reach for the door, knowing fully that forgetting and not-seeing are a part of changing core beliefs of learning something deeper. I reach for my laptop and I step out onto the porch. I sit down and open a new file for an overdue article. I write with more clarity than I’ve been able to muster for the last week.
I hold the beam of light and all that surrounds it in my mind’s eye . . . and I forget . . . and I remember . . . and I write.