God evidentially loves to hover over water; like a soft comforter – literally. There’s something eternal about the sea, because it was, before anything else.
I love what Genesis describes happened next: “God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens.” I love the space where water and earth meet, don’t you? The beach! Right now I’m land-locked in abundant snow, so that space sounds like…well, heaven.
There is a reason our hearts are drawn to the comfort of sand and water. There is a reason why someone with a terminal illness is beckoned to a shoreline. It makes sense that children play best there. When we stand in the space between earth and sea and scan what is beyond the ocean, the hovering God is very near. The beach flows from God’s imaginative comfort and creative love, and all manner of eternal stories unfold from there.
This is why there is a particular pain for us when terrible things happen on the beach. It is the mockery of the beach’s beauty which disturbs me today. And yet the indestructible nature of the beauty of this space between earth and water, humanity and God’s comfort, once again reminds me that Beauty Wins.
Unless you’ve had a lengthy hiatus from social media, or any news outlet, the image of twenty-one Coptic Christian young men paraded near the waves before their deaths is vivid in your mind. We rightly sorrow, fume over the nature of their deaths, and hold admiration for the dignity they displayed. We grieve for them, as we do the Jews and Muslims who have also been beheaded, burned, raped and murdered for being ‘apostate.’
But this was on the beach. The threat message to the ‘Nation of the Cross’, the men darkly shrouded in their incognito cowardice, and the trembling, somber young men in orange jumpsuits – all of it was in the space between water and earth. It is one thing to brutalize someone and capture pictures of it in the hot, dry desert. To do so in a setting of peace and tranquility is worse. But to do so in the first space of Creation – that is masterful in its power to mock, and to invoke fear.
The image brings fear to the threshold of my heart; a temptress to a low-grade anxiety. I do not want to give way to fear, but I find myself getting nervous. I have not yet hit the sweet spot of the Apostle John’s words, “Perfect Love casts out all fear.”
Every day we are called to defeat evil with the beauty and cunning power of love. Love that is smart enough to name a manipulative relationship that has led to abuse, courageous enough to expose systems which keep poverty in place, honest enough to name my own self-righteous smugness. Love has to reach in to the deepest crevasses of my cynicism, those parts of me that feel jaded from seeing too much, knowing too much. I see the evil on that beach, and it feels eerily too familiar to the evil I see trying to weave its way in to stories of sexual harm, threatening those who have known a different kind of terror; mocking beauty. I hear echoes of the description of evil found in the book of Ezekiel:
“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
though you boast that you are a god.
I forget so easily that this darkness will not last; it has an end. Ezekiel goes on to say that evil will,
“go down to the pit,
and you will die in the heart of the sea,
pierced with many wounds.
9 Will you then boast, ‘I am a god!’?”
Evil. Destruction. These things are not the end of our story.
I think back to sitting on the shore of Sri Lanka after long days of working with trauma victims of the Asian Tsunami. How surreal it was to sit by the same ‘Mother Sea’ which had stolen a quarter of a million people within three hours. I will never forget hearing the story from a Sinhalese young couple who had their newborn at their house, while their other children stayed with grandma at her home only a mile away. The husband took the baby to see grandma and they were enjoying a nice visit when the sea subsided and news of an impending catastrophe spread by word of mouth. The husband handed the baby to grandma and frantically ran back to his home to fetch his wife. At the time he reached his own home and his wife, the wave came to his mother’s home and killed his new baby, his mother, and the two other children.
How is it possible that the space between that sea and land could ever hold comfort again? Somehow, over time – and with trauma, time is a relative term – it has. Even all that horror could not erase those white sands and tranquil, deep blue and purple mirrored in transcendent turquoise pools. Some days I would leave the squalor of the tsunami’s devastation and simply turn my back to the land, and look to the sea. Even then, there was comfort. Now, eleven years later, her beauty has withstood even the vilest of swelling destruction.
Fear weaves its tentacles into my mind as I forget the ending pages of the story. We could paraphrase the words in the book of Revelation by saying that we “overcome by the blood Jesus shed, by the words of the stories which could not be destroyed, and because we did not fear death anymore.’ Maybe the goal is not so much that we boast that we are ready to be martyrs, but to gently resist the pull to fear that evil is the primary force on the earth. The final word is love. Maybe when I love, we win. Maybe when I summon impossible forgiveness, the mockery fades.
In the movie The Return of the King, when it appears that evil has literally engulfed the world and death is imminent, Gandalf speaks directly to this fear. Gandalf reminds Merry that death is not the end, but only a way through to “The White Shores – and beyond it a far great country and a swift sunrise.” Fragile comfort comes to Merry’s heart as he says, “Well, that’s not so bad.”
May love, and fragile comfort hover over us all.
Jan Meyers Proett has been a counselor for over twenty years and is the author of The Allure of Hope, Listening to Love, and Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me. She has worked on behalf of exploited women internationally, but also loves the trails of Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Steve. Follow Jan at her Facebook author page, and her blog.