by the Rt. Rev. David Reed
“Down around Biloxi, pretty girls are dancing in the sea/ They all look like sisters in the ocean.” — Biloxi by Jimmy Buffett
Years ago, what I felt to be true from childhood found expression in something I heard Bishop Scott Field Bailey say, quoting (I think) one of our Anglican great-grandfathers: “Until you find God in one place, you won’t find him in any place. But once you have found him in one place, you will find him in every place.”
So, first and foremost, my experience of sacred space begins in God’s house, among God’s people. Before I was conscious of being formed and forgiven, restored and re-formed, that’s what God’s Spirit was up to in the regular and seasonal and annual rhythms of prayer, Scripture, hymn, and sacrament. I encountered holiness years before I had any words with which to talk about it.
Having found (and been found by) God in and with the Church, I can now write chapters on the sacred spaces in which I have found myself: kitchen table, campfire, hospital room and ER, mountain top and el monte, forest trail and fishing boat, hunting blind and library, classrooms and chapels, in quiet conversations and rowdy camp singing. You’d think, as often as I’m reminded that God chooses to reveal his power, his life, and his love through such ordinary stuff as water, bread, and wine, that I’d get over being surprised to discover him in all these other places, but it hasn’t happened yet.
And always, always, I find Him on the beaches of South Padre Island and Boca Chica, which have been constants “in the midst of the changes and chances of this life” (BCP, p. 133). Like church, I was taken to the beach long before I can remember. (I’ve seen the black-and-white photos.) It will be the same way for our children. Like all sacred places where we meet God, the beach is both shelter and training ground. Over the years, I’ve found healing for my aching body, weary soul and broken heart. And I’ve been challenged to get up, get the sand out of my shorts, and get over it. Sacred places draw us out of ourselves and toward the awe and wonder of God and yet, they root us more firmly in this life. The beach has a wonderful knack for lifting my thoughts heavenward, and then . . . I step on an oyster shell or a crab or get really sunburned — humbling reminders that our spiritual lives are always embodied.
Sacred places offer us different lenses by which to consider God and ourselves, to look and really see, and to listen and really hear. In the beach’s continuous variations — light, colors, tides, skies, people — I sometimes am reminded of a line from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”
At the beach, I can sometimes see as through a microscope, discovering life and beauty in normally overlooked things. Sometimes, it’s like looking through a telescope: things which are usually far beyond me are somehow brought closer. And sometimes, beach time is like looking in a mirror. I often find myself, for better and for worse, at the beach. I’ll take a look at my life and be so grateful, and in such need of mercy. And it’s then that I go into the water, and floating, rising and falling on the waves, I feel for awhile weightless, graceful, new like a loved child at the beginning of summer.
In the water, we all look like sisters and brothers of Jesus.
The Rt. Rev. David Reed is suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.