"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because he has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." –Romans 1:19-20
I love the beach. I didn’t used to. When I was little, I would cower underneath the towel/tent contraption fashioned by my patient mother and expend all my energy avoiding the sand, the sun and certainly the water. Of course, to even get me to cross the threshold to the ocean area required a Mr. Pibb from the Coke machine as a consolation for the torture I knew was awaiting me in the form of sand in my swimsuit and a sunburn on my pale skin. But things change and now, 18 years later, I love the beach, and I hate Mr. Pibb.
My relationship with the ocean after that, however, has been somewhat of a roller coaster. There was the "boogie-board" stage when I was in fourth grade and my brother and I would spend the entire day conquering the waves. There was the sandcastle phase when I was too girly to go in the water but content to be near it and creating something majestic and garnished with mother-of-pearl shells. There was the book period that consisted of a freshly bound page-turner, a chair and me; note no waves involved. Most recently I have entered into the "walks on the beach" chapter, but not in the "I enjoy Italian dinners and long walks on the beach" way. Rather, in the mid-afternoon all-by-myself-meditative-walk kind of a way. I’ve played out these various relationships with all kinds of beaches: Atlantic, Pacific, Mexican, African and European. The ocean didn’t change; I did.
The last beach I walked was on the east coast of Florida and was a private beach sprinkled with grandmas walking dogs, grandpas fishing from the shore and the occasional out-of-place teenager. It was the kind of perfect weather that Baywatch always had, and I seized the opportunity. My aunt told me to wear my shoes when I went this time because the local paper said the Man-O-War jellyfish were everywhere. My uncle told me there were not, in fact, any jellyfish on the beach today and I should not wear my shoes. In the moment of decision before I stepped onto the beach, I left my sandals on the bridge and wiggled my toes in the sand.
When I reach the end of the distance I want to walk, I like to stand and face the water and just stare. I like to listen to the receding water and the breeze. I like to let the surf tease my toes. This time, when I looked at the methodic waves coming toward me, I couldn’t help but look with awe and horror. This water can kill 175,000 people in the blink of an eye. Everything looked so peaceful and harmonious around me: the boats out in the distance, the little birds hunting on the water’s edge, a few whitecaps. Scripture tells us that God has revealed everything we can know about Him in His creation, specifically His power and His nature. He tells us that though they are invisible, they are clearly seen. God manifests His nature in these waves that I don’t understand—that both scare me and delights me.
Ignorance prevents the pleasure
"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea." —CS Lewis
Under my tent, grumpy and sipping a Mr. Pibb, I thought I was happy and that moving an inch closer to the ocean would be horrid. Looking back, now that I have experienced the water, giggled when the waves made me bob up and down and relished the feel of sand under my feet, I know that I missed out. Deep-sea divers will tell you that you have never experienced the ocean until you’ve seen its depths. Sailors will claim you can’t know the sea intimately until you’ve spent months sleeping atop its watery surface, feeling the swaying motion of the boat and seeing the terror of its storms. Those who venture out the farthest, who stay the longest and who explore the most find more pleasure in its waters than she who stays on the beach. Those with this intimate knowledge of the ocean look at its surface and know what is beneath, what truth exists beyond the gentle waves and cannot see it simply ever again. Mr. Pibb? What was I thinking?
Terror and delight can come from the same source
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” —C. S. Lewis
While postcards and advertisements for destinations like Naples show picturesque, lovely waters, that same water can have enough force to kill hundreds of thousands. Complex, mysterious and even confounding, this paradox produces our fascination. Anyone who has experienced even the slightest pull of a riptide knows the sudden fear and helpless feeling. Yet those exact waves and tides beckon us out into the water, because in them we find pleasure. The ocean has a personality. Experts study it and research it; other people spend their entire lives on the beaches or the water, yet we still cannot fathom or predict its every motion. I was afraid when I was young, and while I may love it now, that fear hasn’t fully left. I’ve seen Jaws, after all. The water is a mystery that echoes the peculiar God-nature that marries terrifying, righteous judgment with loving, unwarranted mercy.
Uneasy, but necessary dependence
“’Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’” —CS Lewis
And so we are dependent on this water. We can’t control it, but we need it—food, climate, transportation and the like. Sometimes we try to tame it into aquariums so we can experience life in its depths without the hassle of going ourselves. With all the imitations, all the alternatives, all the days spent at the pool or building a sandcastle nearby are, of course, only that: fake attempts to render the same pleasure from dangling our feet in as jumping in headfirst. It’s a risk. Sometimes you do get sand in your bathing suit. Sometimes you do get sunburnt. Sometimes there are Man-O-War jellyfish lurking underneath the surface. But I love the beach.
[Beth Stoner is a senior at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. She obviously lives nowhere near a beach, but her computer’s wallpaper tells her differently.]