When I was a kid, my parents gave me a book for Christmas one year that I simply devoured with both delight and eagerness. It was Rachel Carson's, The Sea Around Us. She was a marine biologist whose writing was imaginative as well as full of important facts....perfect for a guy with my curiosity. I ended up reading and referring to this book often enough that it literally fell apart by the time I was a student at the University of Florida.
Our family spent a good amount of time on the beach, while I was growing up. Most of that time was on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida....in the very area where my wife and I now live. Day trips to Coquina Beach at the south tip of Bradenton Beach (part of Anna Maria Island...a Key off Bradenton...at the south end of Tampa Bay) were a regular part of our local events from late spring through early fall. From the time I was seven years old, we rented a cabin at one of two locations on Longboat Key from two to three weeks each summer. This went on even after my Dad's untimely death in 1968...until late in my college career. Mom spent the last seven years of her life living full time on Anna Maria Island.
One might say that the sea is in my heritage. Being a third generation Floridian, my maternal grandfather grew up in what is now part of Miami. He worked on the Flagler railroad project that bridged the keys down to Key West as one way to earn money for college. My maternal grandmother was born in Largo....a port town that is now part of greater Tampa. My paternal family came from the Caithness area of Scotland...along the northwest coast and the northern part of the Irish Sea.
When we decided to buy our retirement home in Sarasota, FL last summer, I was reminded of a conversation Dad and I had when I was about eleven years old. During one of our vacation stays on Longboat Key, our Dad took my brother and me out for a sunrise jaunt to watch the fishing boats coming in from their night work and new ones going out for the day catches. We would watch from the bridge between Longboat Key and St. Armand's Key. The fishing village of Cortez was their home port. After that, he would take us to Sarasota for breakfast at one of those traditional diners that looked like a street car. It was great food, and I still remember the chocolate milk. I have never found anything like it since those years.
On one of those trips, I told Dad, "Someday, I am going to live in Sarasota. It is my favorite city." It was a kid's fantasy, and, over the fifty years since that time, I had forgotten all about it. In fact, from other stories I have published, we had decided for a long time not to retire in Florida. Virginia, North Carolina, north Georgia and Kansas City, MO had become potential destinations at one time or another. Suddenly (almost literally) we find ourselves here in Sarasota. The memory came flooding back....as if Dad was saying, 'yep, you really are living here...this is someday."
That digression is a foundation for my reflection on Rachel Carson's book that I so much loved. Denise and I were on the beach Tuesday evening. We parked our chairs close to the shoreline...just out of reach of the waves gently rolling onto the beach. It was a beautiful early evening. The seagulls, sandpipers, pelicans and occasional skimmer were in the process of finding meals before the grand sunset migration to night roosting locations. The tide was coming in, so we were mindful of the water edging toward us slowly but steadily.
With the birds working the shoreline, I became acutely aware of the strip of land that would be underwater with the incoming waves and then out of the water as the wave receded. This constant back and forth reminded me of Rachel Carson's long chapter on the shoreline. It was titled something like 'Neither of water nor of land.' What is this place? What strange creatures inhabit it?
I know many of the biological and ecological answers to those questions. That knowledge comes from curiosity and the experiences of digging around the shoreline over many years. The inhabitants vary. They are different along the Gulf than the creatures along the shore of either Tampa or Sarasota Bays. They are different even again where the bays meet the Gulf....areas prone to stronger currents and constantly changing temperatures at the two bodies of water collide. Regardless, the crabs, coquinas, "sand fleas" and various other species are neither full time aquatic dwellers nor full time dry land dwellers. They depend upon this mix and change.
Another realization came to me Tuesday evening. Again, this is nothing new to a regular observer, but it bears noting. Every wave bring sand, silt and a host of microscopic entities onto this environment of the shore. Each receding wave carries with it matter and material that had been on the shore for at least some time. Hence, there is a constant and relentless change taking place this narrow ecosystem. Things are being added and removed all the time. Any shell hunter can see this after a tide change on an early morning walk along the beach. What wonders have been wrought from the deep overnight?
We have the same sort of ecosystem in fresh water environments -- just not as dramatic or visible. We certainly are aware of amphibians, who are capable of living and being at home in either aquatic or land environments.
I am a theologian who is also trained as a scientist. I love all things scientific, but I am most knowledgeable in the areas of biology and psychology. I have never had a problem reconciling biblical theology of creation and the reality of evolution science. They are apples and oranges -- two sides of a coin. Without both sides, there is no substance. Two realities coexist and interact in a dynamic very much like the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico upon which my feet were resting Tuesday evening. The debates that drag on in symposiums, the floors of legislative houses of government, church pulpits and conventions, and endless media events are only there because we are convinced that someone is right and someone is wrong. Balderdash!!!
The coming into consciousness of our species of hominids was also a moment of God investing Self to awaken us to the reality of Spirit. Our emerging capacity to love is the strip of shoreline between sensate reality and the unconscious but equally real depths of Spirit (or what we call spirituality). The self of homo sapiens must have both these "sides" or we lack structure and wholeness.
My wife worked with a colleague in Kansas City who would often make a statement about something and postscript it with, "and that's what's wrong with the world." It was usually quite humorous , and I would often ask what was wrong with the world on a particular day from the perspective of that colleague.
If I were to say, from my perspective, what is wrong with the world, I would definitely begin with our failure to live successfully in the "ecosystem" of our shoreline. We have attempted to live totally in the reality of our physical environment and scientifically verifiable data systems. That's totally "dry land" folks. It's important, and it is essential for us to be conscious and engaged as community. However, it is less than half of our total reality. In fact, it is only a small portion of that totality. Our being and capabilities emerge from the depths of Spirit and the environment of Divine reality. It surrounds us, and waves of Love continually wash over us to provide substance and depth to our being.
Oh, and it is a constantly changing and shifting environment. New elements are introduced and ones no longer serving us or needful to us are drawn away. It is a constant interchange and exchange. Resistance to change? It is simply our willful nature demanding to be left alone in the dry land of that which we can physically grasp for definition. Soon enough, however, it disappears, falls apart or has to be left altogether. Death is the great awakening to our return to the "sea" of Divine Love.
The barrier islands in this area of Florida are also important for one kind of marine life. Siesta Key, St. Armand's Key, Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island are environments where sea turtles come ashore annually to create incubation nests in the warm sands along dunes and lay eggs. The mother returns to the Gulf. When the newly hatched young emerge from the nests, they instinctively make their way to the shoreline and into the warm waters of the Gulf.
This analogy fits St. Augustine's words of deep wisdom many centuries ago. "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in you, O God..." We cannot be whole until we are balanced and equally comfortable in the reality of our conscious, daily lives and the reality of the True Self...who we are in God. How do we know what this looks like? For us who are called Christians, the person of Jesus is the embodiment of living that "shoreline" reality....both worlds. He did that so we might be awakened to our nature and true home...the balanced place.
Give it some deep thought. Totally one place or the other is not who we are in this state of life. We are both.
My love to you,