Buechner, Paul Tillich: Ocean
“They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time as near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears.” Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words
I share Tillich’s experience every time I go to the ocean or the Gulf. It is indeed the vastness and the closeness. Today I also think about how destructive the sea can be as I say prayers for friends on the North Carolina coast who have been devastated by Hurricane Florence. I also remember well the vast destruction on the Gulf of Mexico with Frederick, Ivan, Katrina.
I also see the pleasure that the sea and the sand have brought to so many more of us. The sound of the waves calms my soul. Watching children swim and play in the sand pulls at the heartstrings of the child within me. Watching families, lovers, children walk the surf is a lesson in our connectedness to each other. The dolphins, the pelicans, the lone osprey are a constant reminder of a different life and a different agenda than our own. The turtle people who walk the beach in the early morning looking for turtle tracts to a secret nest are icons of faithfulness and caring about something other than ourselves.
I see the ocean, the sea, the Gulf, the sand as icons of something created out of love no matter what the process was. Living by the sea is a relationship of love. It is like being in love with spouse, friend, children. Whenever we take that chance to offer ourselves, our love to another, it can be beautiful, beyond words, like the sea.
At the same time, we are open to storms, sometimes as ugly and powerful as this hurricane. But like the people by the sea, we remember that the positive of love many times overwhelms the possible hurtful negative. The lows are pale in comparison to the highs. We keep on picking up the mess and forgive the wind and the sea and those we love and hope they can likewise forgive us for the harm we have knowingly or unknowingly done to them.