I spent the first half of this week with my student development colleagues on a work retreat. We are staying on the grounds of an old fort (Fort Caswell) on the ocean in North Carolina that is now owned by the NC Baptist Convention and operated as a retreat center. To say that our setting is picturesque is an understatement.
Unsure of how our schedule would unfold I woke up early our first morning here and laced up my tennis shoes for a morning run on the beach. I left my room that morning when streetlights were still illuminating the road and on my venture out I only saw one other person moving about the fort grounds. Fort Caswell has one entrance and we are staying at the far end of the fort near where land seems to end. I walked to the guard house at the front of our campus where the beach entrance is also located. The beaches in the Carolinas are unique in that they heavily populated with dunes that require climbing a sandy hill to get to the beachfront.
All at once I reached a point in my climb over the dunes when I saw the ocean with the sun barely beginning to lighten the sky. It was a magical moment that literally took my breath away.
There is something magical about the power of being by the water for me. One of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist, calls this experience a “thin place”. She defines a thin place in her book Bittersweet as:
a place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable … these thin places are gifts, treasures, and they’re worth changing our lives for…. A thin place is an opportunity to be more aware of the divine fingerprints all over this world.
Seeing the ocean peeking over a sand dune as the sun began to rise was a thin moment for me. Seeing the ocean and hearing it’s movement was enough to force my soul to take a desperately needed gulp of air. Being by water is a reminder that the world is so much bigger than me. Like the ocean’s tide my life ebbs and flows and hopefully each rhythm and season produces life and treasures on shore. The experience of standing beside the ocean is a spiritual one for me, one I don’t want to take for granted.
I cannot stand beside of water and not think of the author’s note in Donald Miller’s Through Painted Deserts (one of my absolute favorite books). As I jogged and walked along the beach watching the sun rise, Miller’s words rolled through my head. He wrote:
I could not have known then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like the seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it’s God’s way…I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die, I want to keep walking away from the person I was moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.
The ocean reminds my heart that the world is so much bigger than I can comprehend and the thin space allows my soul the chance to catch a breath. This place is also a reminder that I am not a finished product. Ocean waves wash to shore and take a few things away from the beach while leaving new treasures. New things do not come onto the shore if old things are not carried off. Each wave moves sand and shapes the water’s edge. The Lord uses thin places, good moments and hard moments, to shape my life much like the waves shape the beach.
Like Don wrote, I need to keep my soul fertile for those changes- open to the movement of God slowly crafting what He desires out of my life. Realizing it will never be finished this side of eternity and remaining grateful for the grace of that truth. I need to seek after more thin moments and places because when those experiences do not have space in my life, my soul is less open to change. I realized how much my soul needed the breath that walk provided and how desperately I need to create more opportunities for it to find thin spaces.
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