I perched on a lichen-tipped ledge on the side of the headland. Above me wheeled two over-attentive crows, hungry no doubt. Below me the strong tide was coming in, wave after wave. The long sands, where earlier I had walked, had been swiftly concealed again; the light-strewn shoreline of flotsam and pebbles and dog prints was being churned up and washed clean in the most beautiful fashion.
This was a place where tides had brought new people to our part of the world, including Piran (washed-up from what we now call Wales) in the years following the gradual, messy ship-wreck of the Roman Empire. It was a time when most human lives were very short, when old certainties were subsumed and also a time of a most remarkable faith. This surge of the Spirit was not separate from the land (or locked up in palaces and pulpits) but interwoven with it, brimming up in holy wells, bringing healing and learning and shelter for the poor.
Again, my eyes were drawn to the waves below as the wind scoured the coastline (and me with it). For all our human need for stability, meaning and permanence, what was being refashioned below me reflected the deep truth Jesus embodied and lived out: that ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies there can be no harvest’ (John 12:24). That all our sand-castles of identity, careers, even closest relationships must be made, broken and re-made. Through a much wider lens, what we call Incarnation and Resurrection (‘God becoming human, so that humans can become God’) are not only one-off historic events but ongoing patterns for us to embrace, too. These times of ebb and flow, loss and renewal are costly, too, leaving us vulnerable (do you remember Gethsemane, remember the Cross?).
Is this not true of our bodies, our inner life and relationships, our church families and structures and our rural communities? It’s natural that we try to hold on, seeking comfort in the past and, like Canute, pretend the coming tide isn’t happening (Climate change anyone?). Or we can recognise that such flow is part of life and death. This is when Lent – beginning with Ash Wednesday on 26th February – can help us, with its nurturing of faith and questioning and new beginnings. As David Adam wrote, in a short prayer called ‘Your Tide’ –
‘It is your tide that pulls me Lord, draw me to yourself.
When one tide ebbs,
Nothing is lost,
only it suffers a tide change.’
As you read this, the sea below that headland will be surging or dying back; the shoreline being made new. May you and I, in every part of our lives, feel again the bracing wind of the Spirit and not be afraid to embrace God’s unfailing tides of grace.