It’s hard to live so close to the Atlantic Ocean and not constantly be overwhelmed by the beauty and sheer majesty of God’s creation! Sure, I take it that most people who live along the coast, the people who work on the sea for a living and others who, for whatever reason, do not immediately connect with their surroundings might not appreciate what I’m saying, but even for a mountain person like me (generally, I feel most at home, most relaxed when I’m in the Adirondack National Park or locales like it) the experience of spending a few months working at a parish on the New Jersey Shore has already brought me a deeper appreciation for what God has done in the great gift of creation.
Take, for example, the vastness of the ocean. I am a runner and one of the things I enjoy doing while near the beach is running along the water during a low tide (my knees and hips also appreciate the sandy surface upon which I run in those cases). Earlier this week I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my surroundings. The blue skies, the crashing of waves, the infinite expanse of sand grains, the wildlife that inhabits and feeds along the coast, and the people who have begun to share this landscape as the summer weather moves in.
Or, for example, take the daylong barrage of thunderstorms and forceful weather that rolled in late yesterday morning and haunted the coast all afternoon (cramping my plans for a late-afternoon run and getting me a little wet while cooking dinner for the community on the grill). While I was largely unamused by Mother Nature’s sudden shift in meteorological plans, hoping instead for a partly cloudy day, I eventually came to view the echoing cracks of thunder off the coast, the intermittently light-and-heavy rain, and the very strong gusts of wind that blew off the water and among us on the island as a reminder of God.
I thought immediately of the tohuwabohu — the chaos of the deep — described in the beginning of the book of Genesis. It is the vastness form, the disturbed waters of disordered matter. It is God’s Ruach — breath or wind — that sweeps down over this chaos, we are told in Genesis 1:2, that brings order to creation and inaugurates the seven days of God’s artistry.
The crashing waves, the deafening thunder, the grey skies all around — this was so evocative of the tohuwabohu and the unusually powerful gusts of ocean-storm wind, which at times was a challenge to walk against, played in my imagination like the strong and orderly breath of God, which is close to us still and blows among creation as it has from the beginning. We call that the Holy Spirit, sophia, ruach.
So, while most people think of the Jersey Shore as a rather bad MTV production, it will, at least for now, remain for me my home this summer, the location of my first extended experience of presbyterial ministry, and the source of my ongoing encounter with the sacrament of God’s creation.