"Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis
all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."
One Sunday before church, my son-in-law, Zeke, woke up to dark skies and drove west to the Pacific Ocean. He met the sunrise and a friend at the coast to dig for clams. He had a bucket, a clam shovel and hands eager for sand beneath his fingernails.
I have never been clam digging, but I know clam diggers look for the best time based on many conditions of the coastline where they dig - weather patterns, phases of the moon, even activity on the beach the night before, but mostly on the time of the tides.
Serious clam diggers must know what clams they are digging for and use tide tables for a particular location along a beach or bay. Basically, the secret is digging for clams at ebb tide when the clam habitat is exposed. You can spot rings in the sand around the spot where they stretch out their necks to come up for air.
There is a rhythm to the sea of sun and moon, high and low, rough and smooth, surf and sand, hidden and exposed, all mystery and lesson. Ocean tides are part of the mystery of the sea. Even knowing the tides rise and fall by the pull of the moon and sun and the spinning Earth does not take away the wonder of the phenomenon for me. I am fascinated when I can walk far out on the sand at one time of day collecting shells and finding bits of shells and smelly seaweed and later in the same day, cannot venture anywhere near my morning footprints in the sand.
If you think about it, tides are a season or seasons within a day.
On a recent trip to Cannon Beach, I told you in Keep Taking Field Trips (tiny way #1) that Heidi and I walked up and down the shoreline. We paid good attention to our friendship and all that was washed up on the shore, shells, jelly sails and driftwood. But at that time I did not give much thought to what was beneath the sand between my toes. Hearing about Zeke's clamming adventure, made me realize I had walked over another realm of the sea.
I suppose that is what I am trying to write to you about in a clamshell. It is easy to attend to so much of life and still walk right over life itself. All of my obsession with white space is about being able to attend to the sanctuary of my soul. All of my talk of soul-keeping is meant to remember and catch the hidden, woven intricacies of God speaking to me and to you.
God does speak to us, all of us, not always in words, but from His heart to our soul, from His creative hand to our heart, certainly in the sky, in the mountains, at the shore, but also in trees, flowers, crawly bugs and that one resilient weed growing up though the crack in the sidewalk. God speaks in the rhythms and tides of our lives.
Zeke's clamming trip made me realize we will hear better what God might be saying to us if we can notice these tides of life and what might be beneath our sandy feet. If we could pay attention to a particular time we are living in and embrace it until it changes as tides and seasons do - seasons in creation, seasons of life or any underlying season of the heart, emotional seasons of being alone or together, at home or away, in a desert or the wild ocean waves, being full or emptied out, in the valley or high on the mountain top, basking in the sunshine or hunkered down in the raging storm - then we have a fighting chance of receiving the gift that was meant for us in that wash of time.
When we are soul keeping, there are seasons to notice, resist, knock-down-drag-out fight, perhaps, eventually come to accept or even embrace as part of our story. If we pay attention, then what we fill up with and pour out to others can take on the rhythms of the tides. It is true that everything is beautiful in its time, though we certainly do not see it until later.
At times I have resisted my seasons, especially the hard ones, no, let me be honest, I have fought them in knock-down-drag-out, sweat and snot toddler-style tantrum. Slowly, sometimes begrudgingly, I have learned that they are one way God gifts us in the blessings of brokenness. It is His scandalous love and resurrection ways He is out to give.
But am I too stubborn to receive His tidal wave love, and on His terms? Sometimes. Sometimes yes I am.
If only I had realized back in the early days of Kyle's autism that I was in a cutting season, a Lenten ebb tide that exposed my sandy heart. I called it a "shattering" at the time, but I didn't always know how to wait for the putting back together again. I just knew I was broken and my edges were sharp and I counted on God's mosaic hands.
Seasons are woven into the ways of the world by God's faithful hand and that tells me something about me and Him together. The changing patterns that come with each season in nature and in life are an ebb and flow like the tides, but on a wider scale. These tides wash over me and you and will all of our strength, we cannot hold them back.
We can hurry through a season or resist the timing, but then we might miss the gift, the lesson and that scandalous Love.
I heard a mama recently say with her first child, she was anxious for every next stage. She couldn't wait for her baby to sit up, to crawl, to walk and talk. But with every child after that, she slowed down and appreciated how short the time of cooing and babbling, crawling, waddling and mispronounced letters.
How sweet those days of mispronunciations in our family, ones we still like to use on occasion, like "hairplane", "underbrella", "pack-pack", "Whyan" and "Wowdy". Our Whippersnappers have most of their lives to walk sturdy and talk well, but just a tiny window of these sweet, working-it-out beginnings that I can finally see closes too quickly.
It might sound cliche, but I want to savor the season and roll with the tides and not miss a holy and hidden thing.
So I am listening to my life and looking at the tide tables. I am not saying we will predict what is to come, not at all. I am just thinking if we could frame that ordinary scene outside our smallish window before it changes to the next, we might not only find the light in our eyes, but it's source as well. Ah, and the source is what we are after, the holy and hidden springs.
Every year the created world brings us seasons, little pockets of rhythm where we experience cycles of growth and change, light and darkness, life and death. Each season has its own changing light, displays different plants and fruits and a particular weather pattern all its own. We all have our favorites, ones we hope will linger and ones we knuckle through.
As I write this to you, we are in summertime, picking berries, cooking out, swimming in the sun and leaving dirty footprints on the kitchen floor by the back door. The days are warm, long and full of light on both ends, shining on the thick-stitches of my vintage American flag waving from the front porch. My backyard garden in bright layers of green upon green, boxwood and mugo pine, wide hosta leaves and hydrangea blooms, all thirsty for watering.
Our refrigerator too, is layered with wedding invitations. Our schedule is filled with showers, weddings and weekends away from our routine. Our days are more relaxed and Ryan is home from college, so the house is more full. Yesterday she and I and I watched a wild bunny hop and nibble in the backyard grass. We took our time in the moment. We are in Ordinary Time.
We are savoring the summer season, but we are also marking events on our calendar coming in the fall when the days will shorten and the leaves will blaze and fall to the ground.
Then I know my college girl will go back to school and the house will be quieter, more empty. I will welcome back the structure and all things fall like apples and pumpkins, leather boots and scarves, but if I am honest, I will be sad too at the bare branches, the things that change and drop off, the losses I feel.
But before long those red autumn winds will bring Thanksgiving and return to me gathering, our table will be full again of all the faces we love among scattered acorns, pecan pies, lace and burlap and candlelight.
It is here we can begin a brand new rhythm, one closer to our heart. We can still celebrate fall and relish it, but we can choose a new place to begin observing our year. Here is where we can begin our New Year with a celebration of Advent and continue to re-map our months according to the pattern of Jesus feet.
Outside the world may be closing her sleepy eyes, but inside my soul will be expectant. Within a nesting has begun on the way to celebrating a wild birth, a birth that quietly, seismically, scandalously changed the world.
It is at just this turn in the road that I have begun a new ordering of my days from years past, where I used to begin my year with January and New Year's resolutions or September and a fresh bundle of yellow #2 pencils, now I begin with Advent and the anticipation of God entering our time and place as baby Jesus born in a barn.
November is my new January.
I wanted to tell you about it because though I am a beginner at seeing life from this new starting point, just a few years now, and already the re-ordering is rippling through my thinking and my heart. The ripples are like the signs of clams beneath the sand, little markers of where to dig up treasure and life.
I have always loved Thanksgiving, the gathering, the smells of baking and cooking, the simplicity of no gifts but the people I adore, and now it has an added, deepening soul layer of worship, celebration and awe. I don't skip over Thanksgiving to get to Christmas quicker, that would be hurried, but paying extra attention to all I am grateful for is a great beginning to the season of Christmas.
Thanksgiving is the poignant start of turning my heart toward that barn where God humbled his glory among the animals in the hay. It is not about Black Friday shopping or getting shopping deals, though I love a good deal as much as anyone. Starting my year in Advent makes the whole year look and feel different.
It has to be transformative to begin a year with a poor baby born in a dirty stable, no less than our mighty God, than with a glittery ball dropped into Time Square.
Advent is still a countdown to a kiss.
Following a liturgical calendar and even a planner organized around the seasons of the life of Christ can give our days new meaning and realign our hearts like a compass needle finding North. In following a different pattern, it might surprise you to find that we are not more removed from life, but more engaged.
I still celebrate all the seasons and enjoy their patterns. I will reach for boxes of freshly sharpened #2 pencils and my favorite inky black pens to celebrate the start of a school year, not because I'm in school but it is always school in my heart, or that famous box of 64 crayons with a built-in sharpener int he back that always makes my mama cry, but that is not my main frame of reference for my year even when the kids were in school.
I am thinking of the sand beneath my feet, the life I am walking over as I live out my original design.
After autumn's glow of red, clementine and amber, winter will still blow in with darker days cooling my world with galvanized skies. You'll still find me hunkered down with my fingers curled around a cup of mandarin tea, my toes under a goose down duvet near a popcorn fire, a fat book in my lap.
But underneath my duvet along with toasty toes, my heart is warmed by the season of Jesus earthly life, by a heightened attention to its rhythms.
The tide of winter exposes things, taking all the leaves away and pulling back to gray, but all is not dead. Winter in the liturgical calendar is awash with the festivities of Christmas and Epiphany, all celebrations of birth and the feeling of finally!.
I've started making Epiphany my close to the Christmas season. I am still in the practice of listening for a single word or phrase for the new numbered year, but I give it extra time along with the take down of Christmas decorations, until January 6. It is a small shift maybe in calendar days, but deep in soul ways.
Still all the cold and darkness of the long winter makes me long for brighter days and a thawing out. While I enjoy hearing the trickle of the high mountain thaw as the world begins its return to life, before the green buds it is first a gray and soggy time that makes me want to rush past it until I realize I need the dark somber heart of Lent, a kind of cutting away, a cull on the way to it's perfect end, when we burst through the fog with Easter delight and wonder at the Resurrection.
Can you feel the difference in the predominate pattern I am inviting forward to form the rhythm of my year? On the outside, you might miss it, but from the inside, its unmistakable.
I know I am not alone in feeling the invasion of the shopping calendar on life. As the retail market pushed earlier and earlier into my seasons, Halloween on the heels of Back-to-School which is now smack in the middle of summer, and then rushing right past Thanksgiving to Christmas merchandise in October, the more I searched for ways to push back.
All this merchandising felt so artificial, so hurried, so consumer driven, all things I did not want to be. I wanted to resist being merchandised to death, all out of sorts and seasons both in my days and in my soul.
That is why Zeke's clamming trip and thinking about timing the tides spoke so clearly to me, and having just been to the beach and feeling I had taken it all in, only to get home and realized I missed an entire ecosystem. That is not what I desire in my life, to walk right over the footsteps of my Savior while thinking I had taken it all in with church attendance and hymns and a birthday party for Jesus.
Those are all good and true things, but its the kiss I'm after, the intimacy of knowing Jesus heart and soul, and offering that intimacy to others. After all, Jesus walked in a here and now of His own, whittling wood and eating fish among real people, yet He was rolling with invisible tides, the tides of His Father, of grace, mercy, truth and sacrifice. There are times to the tides that roll along under all of our feet and He sought to understand them, in the end even He chose not to hold them back and He had the power to do it.
Here are a few ideas to try that might reorient your life around new patterns, fresh rhythms, old as time and true as that magnetic field pointing North.
Roll with the Tides is tiny way #3 for watering your soul in this series I call POUR. The tiny ways listed below may help you embrace the rhythms of a life in Christ, the seasons of everyday life and roll gently with the tides that water your soul.
Name the season you are in right now, first in creation and then in life. Make a list of the qualities of each and see what beauty, frustration and thankfulness you can find there.
Name the season you wish you were in. Pray for patience and resilience until that day arrives. (Celebrating Advent and Lent may help build perseverance in a waiting season.)
One of my friends always gathered sunny things like lavender and smelly candles and hand lotions to help her through the long gray winter when she missed the sun.
Explore creative ways to celebrate the seasons of the liturgy. I wrote several posts about Advent last year. And for the first time, I observed Lent with a Photo-a-Day practice on Instagram and Facebook.
Try a liturgical planner like the one from Sacred Ordinary Days I am using for the first time this year. (We can learn together.)
I hope all this talk about tides has you thinking you might want to listen to the sound of the Sea Maker in your life, the rush and retreat of those tumbling waves over the footprints of the Son of Man. The tides I think will water your soul.