The Poetry of Being Held by the Ocean

She loved the oceanFor me, being near the ocean necessitates contemplation. Whether I find myself on a stormy shoreline, heart giddy at the sheer power of the crashing waves, hair whipping in the wind, or under the shade of a palm tree, watching as soft sand gives way to cyan water fading into cobalt that melts into endless sky, when I am near the sea, my heart is brim-full and I feel the impulse to wax poetic.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAlmost a year ago, a road trip led me to the shores of Folly Beach in South Carolina. It was a sun-piercing day, a day of beginnings: the start of summer and the unfolding of a new romance. I waded into the water, feeling the waves jump up my very white legs as I came alongside the man with whom I was smitten. Timid hope blossomed in my chest as he took my hand and led me to where the waves were breaking. Raw and unceasing, they came crashing, causing us to stumble and giggle. “I have an idea,” he called to me over the roar. “Let’s name our fears with the waves and face them together.” I couldn’t tell if my heart leapt at the suggestion of vulnerability more from being a terrifying thing or the very thing my soul was longing for, but either way, I looked back at him and said a hearty yes. We yelled out the lies and insecurities and fears—bravely, fiercely, recklessly naming each swell as it came towards us and then bracing ourselves, hands held tight as we dove under, swam deeper, sometimes getting lost in the swirl, but still holding on. Each wave of fear came, we faced it, and it passed over us, melting into the shoreline behind. The undercurrent swept us a ways from where we had started and after awhile, all thoughts of not-enoughness and too-muchness, all insecurities and reasons of unlovability voiced, we emerged with the kind of contented exhaustion that only comes from reckoning with either the ocean or that kind of brave vulnerability. It was a glorious moment, one that I won’t soon forget. Like a poem incarnate, I felt like I was in the midst of a beauty brought into words that left me speechless.

Some of those fears voiced that day were valid fears. Ones that emerged just a few short months later, and our hands, so firmly interlaced that day on the eastern shore started slipping apart. A theme in our relationship was open-handedness. Choosing to hope, to be willing to receive, to step into possibility. But I suppose that another part of being open-handed is a willingness to let go, to release your grip if the moment, or circumstances, or differing seasons call for it. To love at all is to be vulnerable, and heartache is a part of that. I’ve known this cognitively for a long time, but this fall, I stepped into a deeper, visceral knowing of this truth.

IMG_9957Well, last week found me on the shores of another beach. Swimming in a bay with water so clear, I could see my toenail polish as my feet kicked back and forth in the calm vastness surrounding me. As I said, the ocean has a way of drawing out this contemplative poet in me. I spread out my arms and lifted my salty face to the sky, reflecting back on this past year. I was back in the ocean in which my heart finds delight, in the midst of liquid poetry once again. But this time, there was no hand holding mine; this moment of naming and claiming bravery was a solitary one. Rather than being washed in the familiar grief of loneliness, I felt embraced by the happy Trinity, swimming there all alone on this empty island beach. Deep contentment flooded my body as I floated there, feeling a voice whisper to me “I am here. I am Perfect Love that casts out fear. I love you, my Illuminated One.”

Someone recently told me that, when we are in the midst of fear, we have a need to seek out one of three things: protection, acceptance, or comfort. We look to satisfy these cravings in a myriad of ways, that is what it means to be human. If you look to the story of love unfolded for us in Scripture, we find that the Trinity meets our needs perfectly. Throughout the Psalms, God declares to us that he is our protection, our fortress and place of refuge. Jesus displayed radical acceptance to people as he walked out his life on earth, drawing near to the unloveable, all conversations and encounters were humanizing, hope-filled, tender. And the Holy Spirit is promised to be our comforter, One who remains intimately close to us, in the mundane and the radical, whispering truth and interceding for us when words are beyond us.

IMG_7390Perhaps my most favorite quote is a poem from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the opening line being “The Happy Trinity is her home, nothing can trouble her joy.” These words are my anthem, a recurring theme. They rung true so deeply in that moment swimming in the sea this week. In this break before what will possibly be a heart wrenching and bittersweet end of a season, I found myself in this bay, protected from the waves of uncertainty and crashing fear. I was swimming in this depth of unparalleled and unending acceptance. And I was smiling under the warm abundance of sun, basking in the glow of the presence of constant comfort. Another tangible poem of a moment that sunk deeply into my core, a moment I am unspeakably grateful for. I will leave you, dear reader, with this beautiful poem I came across a few months back that articulates this moment so eloquently:

Lie back, daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you. Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls. A dead-

man’s-float is face down. You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

-Philip Booth


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