Blog to the beach

Is there any feature of creation more beautiful than a beach? 

Now that I’ve asked the question I know there’ll be a thousand objections, but come on, I know, deep down, that you know, deep down, that it’s true.

“Only God could create a beach,” a quote I heard recently, is a quaint and unconvincing argument for the existence of God. But such a saying must have come from a true artisan for only a true artisan can appreciate the work of the Master Artisan.

I have been reading over Proverbs Chapter 30, for reasons completely unrelated to this blog, and I keep coming across this intriguing observation:

    There are three things that are too amazing for me,
    four that I do not understand:
    the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a snake on a rock,
    the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a maiden (Proverbs 30:18-19).

I’m sure there are those of us in this scientific age who would love to enlighten the author (Agur) with our superior knowledge of aerodynamics, zoology, oceanography, physics, molecules and hormones, but that sort of reductionism not only misses the point,  it takes the power out of the poetry.

He stands in awe of the mystery surrounding so much of what he observes, what fascinates him and what humbles him before the one who holds the wind in his hand and the oceans in the top inside pocket of his jacket (Proverbs 30:4).

And I’m sure the three things and four that leave him lost for superlatives; gobsmacked, spellbound and speechless are not an exhaustive list but are illustrative of the many wonders of creation that humble him before his Creator.

Which I think gives me license to add a fifth which is a kind of variation on the third:

    The way of the ocean on a beach.

I say this with great care and without claim to any more than personal reflection. I am only too aware of the warning back in verses 5 and 6:

    Every word of God is flawless . . . 
    Do not add to his words,
    or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

I think the beach has brought me more joy than any other feature of God’s wonderful world. My fondest holiday memories are of the beach, from first memories as a small boy to more recent memories as a doting grandfather of small girls and boys.

Some of the best memories of my marriage are at the beach. Helen’s appreciation of the beach, its beauty and its bounty are significantly less adrenaline-charged than mine. She’s never happier than when leisurely beach-combing for seashells or exploring rock-pools at low tide with inquisitive grandchildren who are wide-eyed with wonder at the teeming life in the life aquatic.

My father was never more relaxed than when he had a beach-rod in hand and a few hours of solitude by the sea. My favourite restaurant overlooks my favourite beach. Some of my best prayer times are at the beach. Music to my ears is the deeply resonant roar of waves crashing on sand or rock. And I know I’m not Robinson Crusoe.

In her biography of Nelson Mandela, Zelda La Grange (his young white Afrikaans PA), recalls a holiday the long-retired frail-age statesman took on the small island of Mauritius with his wife and small entourage of minders and carers:

After a few days Madiba announced that he wanted to go into the water. We were hesitant as we were not sure that he would be able to stand in the water . . . . Security took him down the terrace to the water and he sat on a chair allowing the waves to break over his feet. The pure joy on his face touched my heart in a way that is difficult to describe. How could something so ordinary, something we take for granted, bring such pleasure to a human being?     (Good Morning, Mr Mandela {Allen Lane 2014} p210)

This episode in the life of the nonagenarian Mandela evokes a special memory of the last day-outing with my nonagenarian father, only weeks before his death. I picked him up from his nursing home at Mittagong and drove him to Kiama Harbour. We ate fish and chips, fed squawking seagulls and watched the large swell smacking into the seawall. I had neither the manpower nor the machinery to lift my dead-legged father into the sea that day but we watched with joy and reminisced about more mobile times, but no time more meaningful than those precious hours we were sharing together.

It is not lost on me that Jesus spent many hours with his disciples, either at the beach or in a boat within sight of one. And what a sight it must have been that day when so many people came to hear him at one of his early ‘Beach Missions’. He taught, seated in the bow of Simon’s boat just metres from the shore, so not to be crushed underfoot and possibly underwater (Luke 5:1-3).

Arguably, the most memorable meal Jesus shared with his disciples was a breakfast at the beach after his resurrection (John Chapter 21). Yes, I know it sounds like blasphemy to suggest that this meal comes close in significance to the supper they shared on the night before his death. But for Peter, and for the others, this was the meal that righted all that unraveled at the earlier supper.

I can barely believe I can remember that old 50’s song, “where trouble will be out of reach, on the beeeach!” I know that many a beach has witnessed tragedy, trouble, warfare, bloodshed and frightening natural disasters. 

But it doesn’t stop us coming back to the beach for all its beauty.

This beautiful feature of creation that only God could make.