The Rhythm of the Beach
While visiting the Atlantic Ocean on a recent family vacation, I was struck by the dynamic, constantly in motion, rhythm of the beach.
The beach is alive! I begin to sense it even from a distance. Standing in the middle of the waves, it is overwhelming and undeniable. It fills all of the senses. I feel the sand squishing between my toes and the waves washing around my ankles. I smell the the fish and taste the salt in the air. I see the sunshine reflecting on the water, the smooth sand, the colorful seashells, and the expanse of water that stretches as far my eye can see. I hear the waves crashing on the shore and the squawking of the seagulls.
As I moved through the waters of the surf, what struck me most was the motion. The waves come in; the waves go out. The waves come in; the waves go out. The tide comes in; the tide goes out. The tide comes in; the tide goes out. The sun comes up in the east; the sun goes down in the west. The sun comes up in the east; the sun goes down in the west. The sun blazes in the summer; the leaves turn colors in the fall; the cold winds blow in the winter; the flowers bloom in the spring; the sun blazes again in the summer. Even the traffic seemed to embrace the rhythm. Tourists flow into the island on Saturday; those tourists flow out of the island on the following Saturday and next wave of tourists flows in; those tourists flow out of the island on the following Saturday and next wave of tourists flows in. There's a constant rhythm at the beach. The entire beach is constantly alive, constantly in motion, constantly changing!
The constant motion and change at the beach keeps it being refreshed and renewed. It is striking to walk onto the beach in the morning and see the smooth sand as far as the eye can see. The footprints, tire tracks, and sand castles from the previous day disappear as the rhythm of the waves and the rhythm of the tides smooth it all out and give the beach clean slate once again. No matter how many seashells are picked up today, the waves will bring in fresh new shells tomorrow. The waters constantly renew the beach.
We are similarly washed clean and given a fresh start by the waters of baptism. We are continually refreshed and in dynamic motion because of the rhythm of the Church. For those in religious life the day is marked by the rhythm of morning prayer, noon prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer. Perhaps you pray while getting ready in the morning or pray before going to bed. Perhaps you pray before breakfast, pray before lunch, and pray before dinner. The week is marked by a rhythm of working for five or six days and resting and going to church on Sunday. The year is marked by the rhythm of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and ordinary time.
The rhythm may sometimes seem dull and repetitive. Didn't we just do this last week? But in reality it is no less repetitive or dull than the crashing of the waves on the sand. The beach is constantly changing and there's always something new! Every wave that crashes on the shore is a little bit different than the wave before, even if it is exactly the same phenomenon repeating again and again. Every Sunday liturgy is a little bit different than the week before. Even when the same readings are read again, the context in which they are proclaimed is new and the Word will be received in a new way just as the beach receives each wave in a new way.
The beach is completely smoothed and given a new start with every day, and our lives are smoothed and we are given new starts by the constant rhythm of the Church. In the penitential rite of every mass, our venial sins are forgiven and we are given a fresh start. In seasonal trips to the confessional for Reconciliation, we're given a complete new slate and the white garments we received at Baptism are made dazzling white once again. The refreshing and renewing that the rhythm of the Church brings to our lives is no less striking than the smooth, fresh sand at the break of dawn on the beach when the water is at low tide.
That moment I stood in the water on the beach, I experienced the dynamic life all around me, feeling the sand and the water, tasting and smelling the salt, hearing the waves, and seeing the bright lights. When I stand in the Liturgy, I experience the dynamic life all around me. I see the the colors of the vestments, listen to the words of the readings, feel the standing and kneeling and sitting, taste the bread and the wine, smell the oils and the incense, hear the music and the bells. I'm a swept up in the rhythm of the Church and it refreshes me and makes me new once again.