Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cast Upon the Rocks

I enjoy going to the beach, unlike many I prefer the rocky coast to the sandy shore. Watching the waves spray against the stone, and the often dramatic changes in the contour of the coastline as the tide rolls in and out is a great way for me to spend a few hours, especially if the weather is not too hot. As I am not drawn to the popular commercial beaches, it is not uncommon for me to have a stretch to myself and I either get around to pondering, or just open my mind and let ideas come to me. I haven’t gotten to spend at day at the beach in a while, but thinking about doing so suddenly filled me with a new thought. If you’ll follow along with me as I describe the nature of the rocky shore, I promise I’ll share my idea with you.

One reason I enjoy theses beaches is in the visual appeal of watching the tide's motion. While on a sandy beach the tide rolls in and out as well, in most cases you don’t see it in such dramatic ways, the line at which sand becomes sea simply shifts quietly back and forth in most cases. Along rocky shores, at least the limestone I most frequently visit, the changes are more dramatic. At low tide, you have a damp stretch of rock with long fingers of water snaking across it, perhaps with small pillars jutting forth, and often a small cliff face joining the shore to the level of the land. As the tide rises, the lower plain vanishes becoming a treacherous unseen sea bed, and the pillars become isolated rocky spurs, the face of the cliff shrinking, shrinking until you can sit on the edge with your feet in the water, and perhaps even have waves beak and pour water across the top.

 Credit: Florida Rambler

If you arrive at low tide, you could happily climb down the cliff, sit down with your back to a pillar, and enjoy the warmth and watch the sea. But if you wait too long, the water creeps up, first soaking your pants and legs, then rising up around your waist, and if you are foolhardy or very stubborn, eventually lifting you up and either carrying you out from the shore among the waves, or banging you against the rocky outcrops that were once pillars leaving you sore and possibly causing you harm. Walking back out once the rocky plain is covered by a few inches of water can also be hazardous, turning routes which were safe and welcoming when you came out into pitfalls and hazards that can cause you to slip or stumble.

As promised, now that you have shared an image of this shore with me, I will share my idea with you. It struck me that this shore is a wonderfully way of understanding the truth that God may be unchanging, but his will for his followers may be less rigid. The limestone is the sure foundation of God, solid, safe, and standing fast no matter what comes to pass. (I concede that the action of erosion is outside the scope of my analogy). The visitor is the Christian, living his life on the bedrock of God. The ocean is the gestalt of the world, the forces of cultures, movements of peoples and nations, new discoveries and interactions with other faiths and peoples. Even as God remains unchanged, how a Christian should live and the best actions for him to take may be altered, for the changing nature of the world may alter the way in which we need to, or are ready to, relate to God, just as the changing tide may reveal or obscure aspects of the stone.

This is not to say a Christian is left in a state of ever needing to fear the world and change to its every whim. Rather, just as with the shore, there is a strong cliff that stays above the waters deeps, only occasionally subject to a rough wave and splash of sea spray. God does not conceal this from us, either. The Gospels preach repeatedly and loudly of those aspects of God which are most vital, those least likely to ever need for us to reevaluate. We hear clearly and repeatedly the acceptance of our Savior, His death, His Resurrection, to love God with all our hearts, to love our neighbors as ourselves. But perhaps, when we step into other matters, while we are still seeing God, we are seeing an aspect of him more mysterious and less known to us, an aspect which developments in the world may even be able to alter our understanding of. If we pin our understanding of God on these ideas and elements of his identity, and refuse to retreat to the sure rocks of higher ground, then as the world changes, we may find ourselves buffeted and battered, possibly swept away from God into a sea of worldly ways, or drowning in our stubborn insistence on being as unmoving as God himself. None of these occurrences change the underlying nature of God, the Rock remains, but our relationship to it must change. Clinging too tightly to one way of knowing God may mean that we find ourselves understanding God at low tide, but trying to reach him at high tide. Next time you listen for God's will, listen for the sound of the tide on the stone.

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