One night during my final weeks at seminary, a few of my friends and I decided to put together a picnic so that we could eat while enjoying a local sunset view. The four of us all packed our food, then plugged a beach name into our GPS – one none of us had ever been to before. Just spelling it was a challenge: “Wingaersheek Beach.” After about twenty minutes of following the road’s twists and turns (it’s New England, after all), we arrived at the unassuming location. After parking the car on gravel, we walked up to the sandy shore, beholding low tide.
A few families were walking towards the water, dipping their feet in the shallow waves. Children were flying kites, though mostly unsuccessfully. The four of us walked closer to the shoreline, then found a promising rock formation where we could picnic. While eating turkey sandwiches, clementines, chicken fajitas, and other such yumminess, we discussed some details of navigating adulthood – particularly in finding and nourishing community. Almost imperceptibly, the sun began to paint the sky, subtly at first, but then with utterly unspeakable contrast.
We were awestruck. All we could do was stare at the sky, then hopped off the rocks to walk closer and closer to the horizon – no matter what that took. Initially, some rocks were in the way, blocking the fullness of the sunset.
We ran into the water, hoping we could see the sunset better within the wetness. First, we were ankle deep, then calf deep, then knee deep. With each step, we could behold the unfolding glory before us. I felt a sense of quickening – of increased speed – in my heart. “Come further up, come further in!” came into my mind, this line spoken by Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle.
That’s what we did. We picked up speed, racing further in towards the sunset, past the protruding rocks, until all we could see was the horizon before us. All four of us walked together, closer and closer. As I looked down along the shore, I found a sand dollar – the first one I’ve ever seen ‘in the wild.’ I picked it up, awestruck by its detail.
I held it close, but not too close, fearing it would shatter, and along with it, the beauty of the moment. I looked up again, beholding the beauty – more picturesque and lovely than I ever imagined a sunset could be. I kept walking, now alone, closer and closer to what seemed to be the edge of the horizon.
I stopped, allowed myself to make a mental memory of the sounds of the waves, then stood silent. I stared at the sky, then felt again:
But I knew in my heart there was nowhere else to go. I had reached the greatest distance I could get to on that beach. In an instant, my heart knew that this quote was not about the beach anymore. Tears filled my eyes as I realized what God was seemingly speaking to my heart:
I felt perfectly loved. Perfectly held. In that moment, I tasted Home. In that moment, my fears about the future, about my upcoming move, about my possible loneliness, about all that was burdening me – they were loved and held. A kind of holy hush came over me; even though I cried, an inner silence was present. And as soon as the moment came, it left. Darkness was descending, and it was time to walk back to the car.
I caught up with my dear friend Ellie who put her arm around me. As we walked back together, we gave words to this experience. We identified the Sehnsucht – the German word C.S Lewis utilizes to describe a kind of discernible eternal yearning – of the sunset. We recognized that if this experience was just one taste of the love of God, we are in for a real eternal treat.
A couple weeks later, the sand dollar shattered when I tried carefully packing it to bring back with me to Chicagoland. I was sorely disappointed, realizing that an item representing something so significant was gone before I could ever really enjoy it. However, I realized while holding its broken pieces that my memory was a fragile one. Truly, memories in life are fragile, whether I want them to be or not. And unfortunately, it seems that the moment I’ve attempted to clutch on too tightly, I recognize the fragility most painfully.
But, perhaps tangible items cannot fully point to the intangible anyways. Alas, they are often poor imitations of what only our hearts can grasp that our hands cannot.
This hour at the beach has changed me. Recently, when I’ve started to fear the future, I’ve closed my eyes, pictured the sunset, and remembered the utter love that God spoke over my heart: “Come further up, come further in!” I know and I trust that as I move forward and as I draw near to Him, He will be present to sustain me, shelter me, walk with me. Even when the fears seem to shatter all semblance of God’s love, I trust that I can hold onto His love because it is something that doesn’t shatter.
Oh, how I delight in Psalm 139:5,
I’m no longer on the beach. I no longer live near the ocean. I no longer live in the same space as my three friends. I cannot recreate that moment because it was absolutely fragile. However, in its fragility, it was beautiful, for it pointed me to a Love that sustained me then and continues to sustain me now – a Love that is absolutely steady, firm, and unchanging. A Love, Paul says in Romans 8:39, “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from.”