Walking a straight line on a sandy beach is not easy. The sand shifts and gives way as I walk, swallowing, capturing my feet. Even so I relish the coolness of the sand, the softness, and even how it clings to my skin and hides between my toes. I am awed by how the sand shifts and gives way as I create my own path, but when I look back, the sand has nearly filled in the indentations of my footprints. Had I really been there?
Sand seems to welcome movement. In Zanzibar many years ago I celebrated my 50th birthday by practicing T'ai Chi on a beach, my dancing feet creating a crevice. Years later I led a circle of women on a Captiva beach in that same T'ai Chi meditation at sunset. We formed spiral patterns, our feet becoming one with the sand.
Soon, however, water and wind erased all signs of our presence on the beach. No, sand is not a firm foundation, and yet the way it shifts and gives way forces me to pay attention, just as the ashes I received in the form of a cross on my forehead at last week's Ash Wednesday service reminds me to pay attention to the sacredness of life. When I returned home, I washed the smudge of ash off my forehead, and the next day no one knew I participated in the ritual marking the beginning of the church season of Lent, just as the beach no longer carries a sign of my presence.
But I know I was there. Both on the beach and in the darkness of the sanctuary.
I walked a labyrinth recently. I felt each measured step, pausing at each curve, reviewing the many twists and turns of the last couple years in my life. I moved forward easily and lightly not worrying about when I would reach the center--a new sensation for me. Often when I reach the center of a labyrinth I am hungry for revelation, for insight and direction, but this time it was enough just to be there. I had not doubted my ability to get there, but nonetheless, it was good to actually arrive.
And then it was time to walk back out, to retrace the steps I had made, but there were no visible steps. The path was clear with no sign I had made the journey. Had I really walked that pathway? Had I really been there?
I am reminded of something Luci Shaw says in her book Adventure of Ascent, Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey:
Why do I struggle to find meaning in everything I
see, and everything that happens? I'm wishing I could
learn to simply attend to what is there, and then to
open myself to being seen and enlightened by God.
Might this become the place of balance and
peacefulness? p. 77
She goes on to quote Annie Dillard.
We are here to notice everything so each thing gets
noticed and Creation need not play to an empty house.
If I could lighten my desire to find meaning, to have a presence and to leave my mark, I suspect I would experience more peace and be more able to pay attention and to notice the shifting sands.
At what times in your life have you wondered about the meaning of your life and if and how you have left a mark? What have you done to find peace as the shifting sands fill in your footprints? What spiritual practices enhance your ability to notice and pay attention? I would love to know.
In case you missed it, this essay by Oliver Sacks recently published in the New York Times is well worth reading. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html?_r=0