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Standing on the Shore

Outside my hometown on the east coast, there is a quiet spot far from where the tourists and daytrippers go, here there lies nothing but the sea before you and the land behind. Both land and seashore are flat although the land inclines slightly far into the distance, to the left as you gaze over the distant green fields the top of a church spire is to be seen, whereas a few miles directly in front of you, almost hidden by tall ancient trees, there peeps a church tower - the quintessential English countryside.

Standing on the small rise of the dunes the sea stretches out before you as far as the eye can see, when the tide is out the sea is almost hidden from view, revealing golden sandbanks and the shimmer of water in the creeks. It is possible, and indeed a pleasant thing, to walk out to the creeks and paddle in the water warmed by the summer sun but woe betide those who ignore the warning flags nor keep a watch on the sea for here it comes in sideways, swiftly, silently, first into the creeks turning them into deep treacherous waters with hidden undercurrents leaving you stranded on the sandbanks. Many have had to be rescued here for ignoring the signs, not all are lucky to be saved. Sometimes it seems the the cry of the seagulls overhead are the cries of those who have died here - 'take heed' they seem to call.

When the tide is in and you walk along the high-water mark there is a sense of awe at the unfathomable depths of the sea and it's power and how great do we stand in it's mercy.

After the sun has set and the twilight turns softly into the night, there is nothing more soul stirring than to see a full moon rise slowly out of the sea, shedding it's soft silver light over the waves and land, casting deep shadows, turning what is familiar into mystery and revealing even in the shadows what is hidden under the sun's glaring light. When the moon has waned and hidden itself behind the shadow of the earth, the night sky like a deep velvet mantle stretches overhead, the blackness pierced by uncountable twinkling silver stars. How vast does it lie, how small do we stand in the infinite darkness of space.

There is no shelter there from wind or rain, the heat of the sun or the coldness of the night, calm or storm but it is here in this wilderness where sea and sky and sky and land merges into one that if you listen carefully, you will hear the sound of gentle quietness. Listen.....

Sometimes in a lowly cell
in the presence of my God
I stand and listen

In the silence
of my heart
I can hear His will
if I listen

Despairing people
flock to me
they expect that I can see
the answers
They ask my advice
They say I am wise
I answer
that nothing can decieve me
if I stand alone
and silently listen

For I am but a servant
who is Guded
by his King
when I listen

Sometimes in a lowly cell
in the precense of my GOD
I stand and listen


These words were found in the ruins of an ancient Columbian chapel near St Columba's birthplace at Garten Lough Co. Donegal. We do not have to be like the monks in a tiny cell to listen, it can be  just a chair near a window, a favourite spot in the garden, sometimes though in our very busy lives our 'cell' is in our mind using our imagination to find that quiet place.

That spot on the sea shore is my 'cell' over the years it has changed, there being a small car park there between sand and land, a blot of grey gravel and cinder, the land has formed natural ponds and as the saltmarch turns to green land, it is now a nature reserve - hence the little car park. Where I used to sit on the sand, a bench has been placed there over looking the sea and sand, despite the change it is still my 'cell' and when I need the quiet I go there in my mind.

Often I sit on the bench, 99.9% of the time I am alone, sometimes some one comes and sits besides me, I do not turn or look at who it is, it is enough to know someone is there. Other times a shadow falls and I look up and smile in delight to see who is here, I receive a smile in return and we sit in comfort together. When the winds blow and buffet and huddled against the screech of the howling wind, no matter how exposed the bench is I feel sheltered as if strong arms are about me, protecting me.

Whether alone or together no words are ever said, for this is a place beyond words, only the silence speaks.

In all the years that I have been to this lovely spot I have seen the changes wrought by wind and tide. The war defences built to withstand invasion, once towering overhead are now half covered by sand, the breakers once almost hidden by the sand are now re-emerging again and the concrete slopes for flood defence instead of being huge steep slopes now lie hidden only 2 or 3 inches exposed to show where they are.

The creeks have got deeper, some wider while others have silted up and new one formed. In places the sand has disappeared, exposing sticky black mud and the beginning of a new salt marsh. Where once the tide never came up, it now sweeps in deep and dangerous so it is no longer possible to walk above the high tide line as in years before.

Even where I sit has changed, in the beginning I sat on the sand, then someone put up a seat, nothing fancy just a plank of wood resting on two other peices of thin wood but now there is a proper bench to sit on and rest.

The salt march grew outwards but then so has the land reclaiming what was once lost to the sea. I have never walked over it since a teenager as there was no path through the dunes and marsh, it was possible to walk through it but it wasn't safe and as I discovered the one time I tried the path was very overgrown with hidden holes and when I turned back I couldn't see the way I had come, so I got a bit scared and made my way back with difficulty, sometimes stumbling as the sand suddenly gave way beneath my feet into a hidden hole. In the years since I have never gone beyond that bench.

It is to this place then I often go in my mind - it is calming and restful there.

Recently it has dawned on me that where I sit, whether in body or mind, and what I see there reflects the spiritual life, all being familiar and yet also changing. As I sit there in my mind I have become aware of being drawn to what is now the nature reserve, that place where I've never ventured since a teenager and although I walk towards it I keep looking back to my little spot. Perhaps (I think) I might try it, I can always come back to where I always go to sit but then I realise I can't see what lies ahead if I am constantly looking backwards but when I turn round I don't want to leave my little spot or leave the unity that is there of sea and sky where all is one.

But the land is flat although there are the hills far far in the distance which tells me that the oneness is still there but I need to walk this way and I can't. Common sense tells me that although it may be possible to follow the coastline it is far too dangerous here even though I am fully aware that 20miles further down the coast it changes to beautiful golden sands for miles, I do not have the power to walk on the water to get there, I have to turn inland - but I can't take that step.

In my meditations I have wondered why I can't walk that way while knowing at the same time I must. There is a path there now that is safe to walk, there is a board with details on it, what to look for but you have to hold that information in your mind there being no leaflets to take with you. I see that I have the information I need to follow this path - my Bible - and that I will continue to experience the unity of oneness but I still can't move.

And then I look down and see another's feet not mine and I know then that knowing my exhaustion and the need for me to take this way, that for now He will carry me.

Back in February after days of mist and fog, the sun came out and I took the chance to go to my favourite spot. I walked over the dunes a little way and I saw how flat the land had become now most of the grasses had died down over the winter. I walked further along and found to my surprise I was actually following a path in the nature reserve, one I had never noticed before. I wanted to walk further but the sun was about an hour from sunset and the tide on it's way in, so I stood awhile watching the wild ducks and geese that over-winter there.

Quite suddenly I felt I could walk this way, there was nothing to fear and in that instant it was as if I was now walking, no longer needing to be carried and I felt such a joy as both the spiritual and the real merged and hope was re-born.

It wasn't until last month that I had the chance to go again but this time I stayed in a little holiday cottage nestling on the land side of the dunes, only a mere 30 seconds from the beach. I was alone most of the time, family visited during the day and Rob came for a weekend but I wasn't afraid to be there alone.

Despite the weather I was able to spend time out on the beach in the morning or late in the evening, for despite the sudden downpours there were long periods of sun although the wind was very cold at times and would whip the sand into your face. I enjoyed my long walks, not really thinking of anything at all just enjoying the moment of feeling the sand on my bare feet which was surprisingly warm. There came a morning when I was able to have a nice long paddle right on the sea edge as the tide was almost in, the sun was out and the sea warm and for once there was no wind.

Sometimes in the early morning, the sand would stretch before me unmarked by any passing feet and I felt like Robinson Crusoe but I never felt alone. In the late evening, I walked over beach and dunes in the long twilight, often I would pass couples walking their dogs and pass the time of day with complete strangers before we all walked on in different directions.

I walked to the nature reserve but never walked far into it as the grasses were so tall and the paths so hidden and the ten days I was there the tide would be sweeping in during the day and only the foolish take the risks of walking into the unknown unprepared. Besides over the winter there had been changes on the beach, where the saltmarsh had been growing between the breakers it was now hidden under a great heap of sand. Huge stones had been washed onto the beach from the defence wall as the wire holding it in place had rusted and broken and new wire had been replaced, shiny and grey, to hold the stones back. Some of the breakers had become almost hidden, while others where now standing tall. Part of the beach shelf had collapsed into the creek, so a gentle slope had become a sudden and very dangerous drop. Yet for all the changes and all the dangers here,  I was at home.

The tide is coming in and you can see where the beach shelf has collapsed into the creek - it is very deep


Despite the clouds it didn't rain


from the top of the dunes


Took this on my last evening there


Wonderful descriptive writing as usual Jaqueline.  

Honey 56

The beauty of nature and His creation is all the temple we need to commune with our God.

Thank you for sharing all of this, your writing and photographs are inspiring, and your special place sound just awesome.

Honey 56  

Late one morning as the tide was advancing rapidly up the beach I took the chance in the sun and warmth to have a refreshing paddle. Other than a family of three the beach was empty. As I came round a slight curve, I could see far out in the distance a solitary figure digging in the sand, probably for lugworms, apparently oblivious to the advancing sea.

As I continued to enjoy the feel of the water and sand in my toes I kept looking at the man digging and the sea advancing, I began to feel rather nervous. Would he notice the sea almost onto him? Was he aware of how the tide swept in sideways? Did he realise that if he didn't watch it he could soon be cut off or would he look up and run fast to get off the sands?  But then I noticed someone else was watching so perhaps the man was safe enough if he got caught out by the tide and so I turned into the dunes and made my way into the nature reserve, giving a prayer for his safety as I walked through the tall grasses.

As I walked, I considered the difference between the last time I had been there in February and the flattened landscape with clear paths to be seen, paths which were now almost hidden from view so tall were the grasses and wild flowers. After a little while I turned back and had to stop to check and get my bearings, for the path I had been following had almost disappeared behind me as the strong wind moved the grasses like some wide green sea. Having made my way back safely I sat at my little spot and watched the incoming tide and my mind returned to the differences in the paths again.

I found myself wondering if the difference was like our spiritual paths, they are more clearly defined in the times of our darkness than in the times of light and I thought how easy is it for the path to be narrow, not in our winter but in our summers.

Beautiful observation as always, Jaqueline.
I've been doing some work on the 23rd Psalm for a sermon, and, as I was reading your posts, this verse leaped out...
"He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters.
He guides me along the right paths,
for his names' sake" (NIV)
We might not know where the paths are leading us; we probably cannot discern where the paths are, but, if we follow where He leads, we know we're on the right track.
I've always found that particular verse comforting for me, not only spiritually, but practically. When you can't see your own feet in front of you, and the only thing seperating you from a date with the pavement is a five foot long cane, then I find it a comfort to trust that God's in control, and He knows where UI should be putting my feet.

Jim - there are fresh water ponds or rather lagoons in the reserve and it is very tranquil there and I look forward to returning next month and hope to spot the egrets again, I was lucky enough to spot three together.

I have been thinking more about the paths there and how when I turned round and couldn't see the path behind me that in many ways that is how it is spiritually - we can only really walk forward.

Sometimes we only see the path clearly in our winters because that is when we most need to see where we can go. You might think that we should see better in the light times but other things get in the way when we are happy and can distract us, it takes the dark times to clear our spiritual eyes. Forum Index -> All faiths and none
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