Now is a very acceptable time.

I did manage to write a post yesterday, I just didn’t manage to publish it. Here it is:

I’m sat on the sand with the tide going out. Every few minutes the regular roar of the ocean subsides, as the tide flattens and washes up the beach. A solitary marbled godwit follows the waves back in, poking at the ripples the sea’s left behind, and scampering out of its way when it next returns. A flock of even smaller birds – tiny sanderlings – fly above it in formation, a rippling net of plump grey bodies. Two paddle boarders sit about 15 meters out to sea. The sanderlings rush after a wave, forming a border around its rise and fall. Their scurrying motion makes them look like mice. I wonder at their courage. Even the smallest wave dwarfs them, and the ripples come up to their chests. To run to meet the ocean must take incredible boldness, and faith. Can birds have faith? The lone godwit stands and watches. In a second the flock rises and speeds above the waves, their white bellies glittering in the morning sun.

At Mass this morning the readings were of preparation, renewal, and seeking. “Blow the trumpet in Zion”, proclaims the Old Testament prophet Joel. “Sanctify a fast; call an assembly; gather the people…Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”” Prepare. Renew. Seek. Paul says, writing to the Corinthians,

“…be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we may become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For He says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

Prepare. Renew. Seek. In the Gospel, it’s Christ who proclaims

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven…Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All three readings call me to be conscious of my actions. Of what I do, and how I do it. Conscious in a way the little sanderlings probably aren’t, drawn by their instinct to act as part of a flock, to chase the waves for sustenance. Even the godwit, more judicious in its scavenging, is driven above all by the need to survive. The desire to act, and to act quickly, often overrides our human ability to be still. Lent isn’t just a time for silence and stillness, though. The traditional acts of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – are just that – actions. Lent calls us to be active in our seeking, not passive in our waiting to be found. Having said that, I sometimes run the danger of being too active, of forgetting that the star in this play is God, not me.

The birds which dominate this beach – all the beaches I’ve been to – are the seagulls. Bigger, louder, and probably smarter than the others, they strut along the shoreline, chest out, head up. With black-tipped beaks and tails, bright white bodies and ash grey wings, they are neat but intimidating – the suited mafioso of SoCal’s sands. One paces towards me, and stops about a meter away. I’ve got the spot he wants, a perch of raised sand, covered in bird prints. These little hillocks rise up from the beach every couple of feet, and most have at least one seagull settled on them. I hold my ground, and he grooms himself, before making a rush at a smaller gull, and taking its spot instead.

I’m guilty sometimes of being as opportunistic as that seagull, even in my faith life. Looking for good ‘spots’ in ministry or in other people’s opinion, nudging things my way (though I’d hope not at the expense of other ‘seagulls’…). Christ’s words are convicting: “Don’t do things to look good or be more comfortable. If they should be done, do them, but make sure it’s God you’re glorifying, not you.” (My paraphrase). One of the reflection pieces I’m reading sets out what is going to be pretty challenging for me, personally. I’m used to doing, not to being. The former might take more physical effort, but the latter is going to take more spiritual will:

“Instead of theatrics, Jesus is inviting us to simple honesty. To smallness. To just being there and sensing his grace, quiet enough, still enough to feel the gentle tugs of the Spirit to newness, to giving up obstacles to the growth of a treasured relationship, to finding a few moments daily to read the Word of God, to surrender fear…What God is going to do in your life will surprise you. Expect it.” – Lenten Grace, Daily Gospel Reflections by the Daughters of St Paul

The boom and wash of the waves take me to another place, another seafront where I’d sat raised above the water. The cliffs of Aran, Ireland, are treacherous, the pounding of its waves threatening. The island itself is inhospitable to human living, sparsely populated and largely infertile. There the inhabitants used to depend on seagulls as food, and even now are hugely vulnerable to the elements. On a 10 day field trip there I’d learned to be quiet, to watch, and to listen. It’s time again to do that, though in noisy, lively, exciting L.A., it might be more difficult, and definitely different, to return to the silent space I’d once carved out, sitting on limestone rock. Here’s to a different, challenging, and fulfilling Lent. Lenten blessings, all.

Ash Wednesday, Santa Monica Beach
Ash Wednesday, Santa Monica Beach with godwit