I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think they will sing to me. I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black.[i]
Winterseas. I love the beach in winter. These past fifteen years, we’ve lived on the north coast of
By the time the late Autumn storms roll in off the Pacific, locals breathe a collective sigh of relief. Most of the migrating flocks of tourists, vacationers, and out-of-towners have flown away. It’s not that we don’t like people or want out of town guests to visit. Not at all. Our local economy depends heavily upon welcoming guests, what is formally called, “the hospitality industry”. But come late October into early November, there is something sweet about being a local among locals. Those of us resident gulls and crows who remain through the coastal winter hunker down to wait out the long rains. Many of us take delight in the gift of winterseas.
Winterseas. I love the beach in mid-winter. Winterseas kick up sea foam as though some oversized washing machine overflowed sending suds up and down the coastline. The sky hangs heavy, staying close to land, draping the coastline with lacy rains and wisps of fog clinging to the evergreens marching up from the shore.We put on a wool sweater, a light-weight rain jacket, preferable made of gore-tex, and head down over the dunes to the wind blown shore, following pathways of gull prints in the sand, tracing the undulating line of flotsam at high tide. The wind bites, finding the cracks and gaps in your clothing, sneaking in past your skin to chill your bones. The foggy air collects on the rainproof hood on your rain jacket, runs off the visor dripping onto your face, moistening your lips with the tang of saltwater.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) wrote eloquently on prayer as God’s way of watering the garden of the soul.[ii] The first and most difficult way of prayer is drawing water from a well. In this method, prayer is by the bucketful, with the heavy lifting work of ropes, pulleys and sheer muscle power to get the water out of the well and carried to the garden of the soul. The second approach to prayer is through a waterwheel system of irrigation. The initial labor of developing the structures of prayer is labor intensive. Once in place, the wheel is powered by the flow of God’s presence past the waterwheel, bringing refreshment to the soul along the piping of our structured prayer life. According to Teresa, the third way of prayer comes only to those who have been matured through the first two means. A spring bubbles forth within the soul’s garden, bringing spiritual grace into the heart of the garden. Teresa admits this to be “an even better way, because the ground is more fully soaked and it is much less work”. But, it is Teresa’s fourth way of prayer which most moves my soul. Rain. Every blade of grass in our innermost being is touched by the life giving goodness of God. In this way of prayer, God does most of the work. We merely receive. Rain falls upon our lives, like waking on the beach in the winter.
Winterseas invite us out to withdraw from noisy crowds in search of solitude. This winter season, choose a rainy day. Put on your raingear. Head out into the wind. Walk alone. Let go of tensions. Shout into the gale, as King Lear cried out on the heath: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout, till you have drench’d our steeples”.[iii] Clinch your rain-drenched fists, gathering up all pent up anger, frustrations, irritations and let them be cast upon these wind swept shores like flotsam and jetsam at high tide. Then release those clinched fists, opening your hands to the grey skies, as if to say, life is a gift, a sheer gift of God’s grace. Open your hands wide to the sky, letting rain fall on your open palms, open to receive the gift of life, like rain falling upon the winterseas of your soul, awaiting the return of the sun.