"The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
- Isaiah 11:9
Few books have meant more to me than Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift From the Sea." Her "seaside meditations" remind me of my own discoveries, whenever I have the privilege of spending time near the sea, where I am today.
My first seaside lesson occurred during a visit to my uncle's cottage on the Massachusetts North Shore. Already in college, but unsure what I should do with my life, I was mesmerized by the steady pounding of the ocean waves against the shore.
The keyword in my meditation was "steady." I knew the highs and lows of the moon-directed tide were so regular that their times could be known months or years in advance. I also knew that God had created both the sea and the plan to regulate its movements for as long as the earth remained. Suddenly it was clear to me that if God could control such an expansive process, he could certainly guide me, a small speck in his creation.
My seaside meditations continued some 20 years ago after we purchased two "time-share" weeks at Hilton Head, S.C., including a January week I could use for uninterrupted rest and writing each year. Thanks to new off-season rates, my single week has now increased to four, but I'll never forget that first winter week at the beach which, to this former New Englander, was a new thing.
Walking along the beach one morning, I stooped to pick up one of the small, round discs I kept noticing beneath a mound of sand. After rinsing it off I recognized the delicately designed shell as a sand dollar. But why wasn't it white like the ones in souvenir shops? And what was that legend? Oh, yes: The holes represent Christ's wounds on the cross, the floral imprints the Easter lily and Christmas poinsettia, and the tiny points of the star inside doves waiting to be released to spread God's peace.
What charming symbolism; what wonderful souvenirs to bring back to my family and friends - if only I knew how to make them white. Still, I scooped up a pocketful, inquired about the bleaching process, and went to the store for bleach and glue.
Almost before my eyes the drab tint and hairy tentacles disappeared in the bleaching solution, and a few coats of glue and water sealed the pores and turned the discs a brilliant white. Chains, decals and added coats of acrylic later, I had treasures as beautiful as any I had seen in stores.
Hooked on a new hobby, I made successive trips to the beach to add to my collection. I retraced my first steps and searched other areas of the beach. I went at low tide and high, and all levels in between. I walked close to the water and near the high water mark. I went to the beach on cold days and when it was warm.
I must sound so experienced that you are waiting for me to tell you everything you need to know about finding sand dollars. The truth is, I found no pattern. On that first day when I wasn't even looking for them, I found more than when I went on an intentional search. I didn't find more closer to the water or farther away, and often collected just as many when I retraced my steps as when I searched someplace new. The weather didn't matter, either, nor was I always more successful on extended outings than when I only had a short time to spare.
Soon I had another symbolism: My search for sand dollars was like encountering God. He's always there, whether we are searching for him or not, whether we are agonizing for his presence or feeling at peace. And he may appear to us as dramatically as He did to the future Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 5), or be as inconspicuous as a tiny mound beneath a thin covering of sand.
Just as no one needs my method for finding sand dollars, discovering God, beside an ocean or anywhere, isn't limited by anyone else's formula or experience. There is no one-size-fits-all pattern. There is only the assurance that he is there.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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