At age ten I fell in love with the ocean for the first time. Well, it was really the Gulf of Mexico as it looked from the sea wall in Galveston, Texas, but it was love at first sight. I thought it was the most mysterious and beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Thankfully I’ve had many opportunities to experience blue waters and white sands since then but, even the brown water and dirty sand of the Texas coast have the power to soothe and relax me as no other nature can.
Last winter I attended a preaching/writing conference in Laguna Beach, California. To my delight, my room overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The waves actually broke beneath the balcony! To witness God’s creativity in action in the beauty of the sunset over the water was not only an experience in wonder, but a convicting reminder of how often I miss God’s fingerprints in the world. The lower the sun sank into the horizon, the brighter the hues of orange and blue and amber in the sky. I refused to blink, not wanting to miss a second of this sight. In that moment I questioned how anyone would not believe in a loving God when there is a new masterpiece provided for us in each and every sunset.
The first night I was rocked to sleep by the rhythmic melody of the waves. It was perfect. Perfect that is, until I woke up in a fit of terror in the middle of the night. Suddenly the joy of being in a room right on the water became a nightmare. The week before my trip I saw the movie The Impossible, a true story about a family that survived a tsunami. A terrifyingly graphic portrayal of nature’s wrath, the movie opened my awareness to another dimension of water of which I would rather not be aware. And a dimension of God’s power in nature that played havoc with my kind and loving image. As I awoke from sleep and lay there in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the waves, a gripping fear filled me and my only thought was of the liquid wall of violence that had consumed this family’s peaceful seaside vacation without warning. What was that sound that occurred right before it hit…wasn’t that the same sound I just heard? To make matters worse, I had made the unfortunate mistake of looking at the hotel information booklet which contained instructions for the proper response to a tsunami alarm. Tsunami alarm?! What the hell? We didn’t have tsunami’s in west Texas. Or east Texas. Or anywhere in Texas for that matter. What did that alarm sound like? And did the instructions really say get up on the roof? Why did I read those hotel instructions? I wish I hadn’t seen that stupid movie, and I wish I had stayed in a different room; a different hotel; like maybe near the airport. Why did I think this conference was a good idea anyway? I didn’t want to know about the possibility of dangers being attached to this beauty. I didn’t want to know anything that might require an evacuation route. I didn’t want to be swept away without warning. Better to stay awake and listen for the alarm. The sun rose, but that didn’t help much. In the movie, the tsunami struck in the morning….
What had always been a source of peace for me had become the trigger of a gut-level terror. The calmer the waves became the more worked up I got. I badly needed an interruption to the momentum of my fear. I needed rescue. No, there were no real signs of impending doom, but adrenaline producing fear had full control of me. Irrational as it was I was paralyzed in its grip. I don’t know what you do when you are afraid, but I pray. Fervently. Not the blessing at the table kind of prayer. Or even the prayers of a pastor in church kind of prayer. Not gracefully articulated poetry, but rather a guttural moan for help. To my relief (and a little bit to my shame because, after all, this was a self-imposed crisis into which I was asking God to intervene), God met me right there in my fears, as unfounded or founded as they might be. Ever so peacefully, the sound of the waves loosened their grip on me and slowly, gently rocked me back to sanity. The adrenaline force subsided and I began to think again. Regardless of whether or not there “might” be a tsunami, I had come to this place to be fed, to see God, to be refreshed in my spirit by the power of the Holy Spirit and the creativity around me. I had been given this opportunity of learning new ideas and ways to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is supposed to be good news to the downtrodden, the weary, the terrified. To me. To miss a moment of that gift due to my fear of uncertainty, of what might or might not happen was not only wasteful, but missed the point of life entirely. By letting my fear overwhelm my sense of wonder and joy, I was in essence saying that I didn’t believe that the power that created the beauty of the sunset was enough power to take care of me. I’m embarrassed even as I read back over that sentence. Embarrassed, but convicted.
Thankfully there was no tsunami in Laguna Beach that week, except for the one in my mind. This was a silly incident that keeps me thinking, and watching. Watching for the beauty. In the midst of uncertainty. Something to chew on…