“Put the break of the wave on your shoulder as you turn with it,” my dad explained a decade ago in New Jersey. “You need to catch it right when it’s beginning to peel. Then you just put your hands out, your head down, and fly.”
Last weekend I was on a black sand beach in Tapachula, Mexico. I went into the hot Pacific to bodysurf as I’ve done for as long as I can remember when my family would make our annual trip to New Jersey. You wait for just the right break to come your way before making the dive.
It was hot in Mexico.
As in, I tried to walk out to the end of the jetty without my Crocs, but didn’t even make it halfway because the rocks were deep frying the soles of my feet.
As in, I had to hop from one wet patch of sand to the next because my feet were ablaze.
As in, I tried to go into the water to cool down, but the ocean was so warm it made me more hot.
But it was in that water, being tossed around by the waves that I remembered God.
I think if we’re honest, it’s incredibly easy to forget God. We get caught up in the minutiae of work, friends, family, and productivity that we neglect to focus on the intimate presence of God. And sometimes I’m reminded of that divine presence when I’m in the ocean. Its ferocity and terror have long served to reorient me toward Him.
See, I grew up on Cape Cod and never fully recovered from her beauty. The Cape still seems like a spiritual home of sorts to me, as I look back on my time there with a sepia nostalgia which only grows more intense with time.
My parents will tell you I hated the Cape the first few years we lived there, as I missed my Colorado life and refused to adjust to life in Massachusetts. It wasn’t until about the fourth year there that I began to embrace the beauty of the forests, kettle ponds, bays and beaches of Cape Cod. At some point, my experience shifted from resenting the peninsula to loving it. The constant greenery was a stark contrast to the arid plains of my home in Colorado.
The island and ocean seemed to exude fitful life and endless mystery, inviting my friends and I to come and discover.
Last weekend, I tasted that again.
I was gliding atop the choppy breaks in the Pacific, but sometimes the waves would break before reaching me. Their foamy power rolled toward me, screaming like a freight train. A small voice in the back of my mind whispered to me that humans don’t belong here. In this ocean. Humans are not made to experience such raw and untamed power. sometimes those waves rush at you and all you can do is go limp as they tower stories overhead,
lift you up,
and do what they want with you.
Sometimes when I go bodysurfing, rather than try to catch or fight the wave, I go limp. I submit to it. I give in to its power and let it spin me and throw me as it will.
I almost feel emasculated admitting this, but then I remember that the thing to which I’m submitting is a ferocious city-eater who has claimed millions of human lives over the millennia. It’s bigger than anything else on the face of the earth, and there is, indeed, nothing wimpy about being terrified of the ocean.
It’s odd how you can simultaneously love and be terrified of the same thing.
I sometimes think we should go to church with the same trepidation-mixed-with-affection that I do when I go in the ocean. Rather than fear and trembling , we tend to stroll into church with the same bored expectation my middle schoolers bring into history class.
Where in our own faith stories did we lose the awe and wonder about God? When did we forget to both love Him and be terrified of Him? For me, the periodic trip to the ocean and splashing about in something ineffably larger than me is what reorients my thinking about God. Maybe for you it’s the mountains. Or the city. Or some other terrifying and foreign experience which refocuses your mind and experientially reminds you that you’re not actually that significant or powerful.
Reading this post on your laptop, phone, or tablet probably won’t do that for you. I hope you can power it down and go be reminded of the raw power of God; the intimate nearness and the terrifying strength.
Do you remember that?
Do you remember what it was that first brought you to your knees in repentance? Or, if you’re one who has never had that experience but merely inherited your parents’ experience, why haven’t you sought it out for yourself? Ask God for it. Ask Him to show Himself to you and make you undeniably aware