I have a cup of coffee and a bourbon cream biscuit (alright, two) and I am sitting looking out at the sea. It's warm and still with high clouds and the sea is silver and the horizon blurs where the shimmering ocean meets the bright white of the clouds. It's very, very quiet. Wonderfully, beautifully, relaxingly, smilingly quiet.
The children are at the park with Daddy.
That'll be why it's so peaceful. Absence of noise. I lay in bed last night and listened to the sea against the seawall on the beach down below our cottage but then the tide was high and right now it's on its way out so there's no splashing. The beach is sandy so there's no shhhhh sound of the shingle as the sea sucks it down the beach. It's so calm out there that there are no white tipped waves on the sea - it undulates gently, swelling and subsiding.
Last night we walked for a couple of miles along the cliff top in search of the sunset and I discovered several things.
- The cliff path is, in places, perilously close to the cliff edge.
- There are places along this coast that I remember from holidays of my childhood that are Not There Any More.
- There are buildings along the clifftop that soon Might Not Be There Any More if the coastal erosion continues at the same rate.
I felt a strange mixture of feelings when I worked out that the reason that the caravan site where we used to come decades ago didn't look quite right was that there were whole rows of caravans missing. Nostalgia, regret, awe. The whole place was much nearer the edge of the cliff. The drive wasn't so long. The place where our family caravan had stood long ago was gone completely.
Fallen into the sea. Crash, splash. Space.
The sea really is inexorable, isn't it? Unstoppable. A constant, irresistible force. Day in, day out, year in, year out, wave after wave. Storm or calm, it is. There's no controlling it. Wild or still. Even on a peaceful day like today it is constantly in motion. The surge and swell speaks of power even if there are no crashing waves. It is always there. Intensely beautiful but with the potential to destroy.
Last night I read on the news that a four year old boy was swept into the sea at another seaside resort in our country. He fell from a slipway into water only two metres deep and immediately his Mummy and Daddy jumped in to retrieve him, but he never surfaced. Powerful currents in that area must have swept him under and away in a matter of seconds. His parents looked for him desperately but they were also swept away from the causeway rapidly and needed rescuing. The little boy hasn't been seen since. The coastguard organised a thorough search for a night and a day but...
My goodness. I sat and pondered how different that family's day was from ours. We ate ice cream on the pier, we walked along the seafront, we bought souvenirs, we sat on the beach and swam in the sea. We came home, had tea and tucked the children safely up in bed. We had a glass of wine and we found out that somewhere around the coast another mummy and daddy were wild with grief for the little boy they lost. They went on holiday by the seaside and he died. They too packed their buckets and spades and tried to think of endless entertainment on the car journey to the beach and soon they'll be making their way back home again without their precious son.
What a nightmare. I can't begin to understand why. Why their boy and not my girl? Oh, please, Lord, it makes me go cold. Keep us safe. Hold that family in the palm of your hand, Lord. Soothe them, comfort them, numb them from the pain they must be in. Why didn't you help the little boy pop to the surface, God? Why did you allow him to be taken by the sea? Why couldn't it have been a near miss, where his Mummy caught his arm as he stumbled and then told him off for being too close to the edge?
It makes my heart hurt.
It makes my heart hurt.
I'm sure the sea where they were looked as innocuous as it did here as we watched a family run along the lower promenade path challenging the high tide to splash them as it crashed against the stone wall. The small boys hooted and shouted with glee and their parents watched them and smiled. Earlier on that day we sat on the smooth sand with our backs against the stone and so I knew the water was only about two metres deep. If it were a swimming pool that's nothing; you could see the bottom. Touch the bottom with fingertips out of water, but the sea is a different creature altogether. It lives. It never stops. It does its thing regardless.
Danger is everywhere. How can you allow a child to be a child and not wrap them up in cotton wool and diminish the possibilities of their lives and yet at the same time limit the risk-taking? The sea deserves infinite respect, but it is also there for swimming and paddling and standing in the splash from the breaking waves. Did that family take an unnecessary risk? Did the people we saw on the promenade last night? Did we, when we let Lizzie swim out of her depth, Bryan always the seaward side of her? Had she disappeared under the sea we couldn't have seen where she was...
I don't know what it's all about, Father God. You don't love that little boy less than you love my daughters. You don't love that broken Mummy any less than you love me. It's hard not to walk in fear when you see how swiftly and easily a life can be smashed completely, and yet you ask us to trust. Trust without understanding.
All I can do is hold it out to you with my eyes filled up with tears. I love the sea, and I love my girls. That Mummy loved her boy.
I don't understand how I am so blessed with my seaside experience and yet elsewhere tragedy is so close. I can only be thankful. I am so grateful that my children splash and play in the sun and surf and they are enjoying the sea so much. They're not afraid, and yet we're trying to teach them respect for the ocean, with it's immense power and capacity for deception and destruction.
Getting on for two thousand years ago a few fishermen were in a boat on another sea, and a storm blew up. They were afraid. They were seasoned fishermen, so they knew the waters. They knew how to handle a boat and they were used to going out day after day whatever the weather to bring home the bacon. Fish. A little squall wouldn't have fazed them as it would me, but this was something different. It was a Storm. A big one.
You are Lord of the Storm. You control the uncontrollable. You are greater than the mighty sea and stronger than the wildest gale. You not only calmed the storm but you walked on the water while it was foaming and crashing. The same sea that gives life and takes it away, the sea that is smooth and silvery today and yet elsewhere yesterday was brutal and unforgiving - it bows to you and no-one else.
"'The men were amazed and asked, 'What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'"
I can't think of anything more powerful than the sea. Vast and impersonal and fathomless. Yesterday I saw the effects of the sea on the cliffs, on buildings and on my memories and emotions and I read about a family ripped apart by a random wave. I gazed out at the new landscape and the silvery, benign looking sea with a new respect.
And yet - a word from you and the storm was still. You are almighty and all-powerful. You are in control of the elements. You are in control, full-stop. Nothing is beyond you.
Lord God, thankyou for the sea and for the wonder and inspiration it gives and for the way it makes my soul sing to be near it. I feel close to you by the sea and I suppose that it's fitting that I can see it's power and relentlessness as well as its elegance and beauty.
You are Lord of all. And you're my friend. However much I hold onto you and snuggle up to you and joke with you and shout at you, it's worth remembering that you are the all-powerful Creator God. The God who calms the storm and stills the ocean with a word. So this vast majestic expanse of silver in front of me that brings fun and anticipation and laughter and happiness and yet can erode and destroy and bring fear and horror and grief - it's subject to you. It's strong; but you are stronger.
You are great. You are God. I am in awe.
'Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them.'