If you’re sick of me talking about the beach, turn away now. I’m actually talking about words but the beach keeps sneaking into everything.
Many of you know that I go to that one place every day, whatever the weather. I go there earlyish, and I’m usually home by 9, but it’s the most important part of my day. This little beach isn’t tropical, or even particularly beautiful – it’s an estuary and across the water there’s a caravan park, so no great sweeping vista of mile upon mile of golden sand. Just a wonderful sky above us, and the sea in front of us, and the hillsides behind us – dotted with sheep and cattle, and cottages nestling into the cwm.
Dawn down there on the sands is magical, but I don’t make the dawn deadline very often! Most of us dog walkers arrive a little later, waving to each other in bright sunshine, dripping gloomily at each other in driving wind and rain, and sometimes emerging, ghostly, out of thick sea mist. Whatever the weather the regulars are recognisable even when they’re in the far far distance, not just by the colour of their clothes, or the way they walk, or the chucking toys they carry, or the dogs at their sides, or the routes they take, but by a combination of all these things. I know when it’s the girls and their whippets even when they’re down by the estuary and I’m up by the life station, and I know Angela and Ellie by the mad circles Ellie makes on the end of her lead, and Sue and Tiggy are unmistakable and Janine and Dave with their ball-fixated collies. My doggy pals mean a whole lot to me, especially over the last six months, when they have sometimes been the only people I’ve had any interaction with all day.
We’ve had some real life sorrows and some mini dramas since the start of the year; Two of our band have died, and there’s been a heart attack, a hypoglycaemic collapse, a dog bitten by a snake, another dog has had to be carried off the beach due to a fit. Less dramatically, we’ve been joined by a growing group of doughty female swimmers whatever the temperature (they call themselves The Blue Tits), we’ve had lost dogs and stranded cars and far, far, FAR too many signs about all the things we are not allowed to do, dolphin sightings, dead seals, illegal fires and campers (the signs don’t work) and some very bad anti-social goings-on of the scatalogical kind.
Those early morning walks are when I settle down to a time of prayer in a big concentrated lump. Or were. Used to be. Until lockdown I would wander along the water’s edge for an hour or two, dogs paddling around happily, and I’d read the Bible on my phone, and pray and sing and have a right rip-roaring time all alone. And then lockdown arrived, and the beach became important for many people not just as a place of ‘me-time’ or exercise, but as an opportunity to talk to someone, laugh together, care for each other.
At the beginning of this Covid time, realising that the church building would be out of action, I hoped that I’d be joined on the beach by those who wanted to pray, thinking of all sorts of possibilities… open air services, little morning prayer groups, a beach group instead of the usual house group, but none of that happened. No one came. At first I was disappointed that the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay, and that there were no impromptu prayer meetings or al fresco services, but now I am so glad – and I understand why no one came on all those early mornings. Other lives are busier than mine and of course we all have our own devotions. The one time something was arranged it was noon on a sunny day and the car park was heaving with people, dogs and children.
My prayer time, thinking time, time of praise and wonder, has continued, but now it’s subtly softened, made less selfish, because most days now it’s broken into by my dog walking friends and I so welcome that intrusion! It’s what it’s all about isn’t? Isn’t loving people about being available to them? And you know what? God is still there and my prayers are still there when my friends have walked on. And maybe they’ve sensed his presence as we catch up, sharing tears and laughter, because God is in all these things. I just love the thought that my friends walk into my prayer time, and are included in it, as we talk about cabbages and kings, and that as they walk on I am reminded to pray for them. That’s just plain LOVELY!
Masks hide lips and when you’re a bit mutt’n’jeff like me, it makes understanding and following what’s been said really difficult but on the beach there are no masks – just a reasonable distance. It’s grand. A lot of the walkers are, of course, down there with their partners and I’m fascinated that people who have lived together 24/7 during Covid , still have so much to talk about! They seem to never stop communicating with each other… what on earth do they find to say? As someone who’s been a singleton for 30 years, I’m bemused to see them talking, talking, talking as they walk along. What on earth are they on about? Do they share grand lofty visions, or are they trumpeting about Trump, baffled by Boris, vexing about Brexit, renewing their marriage vows? What? It can’t all be about the weather, surely?
But talking about talking, here’s what I really want to say; having just written a book I was asked how long it is… how many words ? Fortunately the software counts them for me and tells me that I’ve churned out 70,000. Last week I was talking to a friend about the words of Jesus and we wondered how many he had spoken. Well, in the English translation, I have a count for you. This is from the Quora website:
once you exclude the duplications of Jesus’ speeches in the four gospels, the total number of words spoken by Jesus is 31,426.
Just 31,000 words that changed all of human history, think of that. My rubbishy book will change nothing. If I wrote a million words they would change nothing. All the libraries in the world…. every single encyclopaedia, text book, every tome of great importance, scientific thesis… none of them have the impact of the simple words of Jesus. Nothing I say or you say or my pals say will have a scintilla of the power of Jesus.
In Matthew 4 Jesus says, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Every word that comes from the mouth of God! Wowzer! What a thought. Think on that. Selah.
A few months ago, encouraged by my church adopting the practice, I intentionally developed the habit or practice of ‘lectio’, In this practice a portion of the Bible is read, maybe a single word, or a short phrase, maybe a verse or a completed thought, and it becomes a focus for meditation, for prayer, for contemplation. At first it seemed that there was little difference, if any, between meditation and contemplation but there’s a whole lot! Meditation (I think) is deliberate and logical and thoughtful… but with prayer and submission to God’s teaching, the meditation enters into the marrow of your bones and stays there. You know what I mean. It takes you over. Becomes the environment of your thinking, the scenery, backdrop. The meditation grows, and deepens and permeates through the whole day. Doesn’t leave you. Sometimes it lasts several days, filling the mind with wonder and a growing appreciation of the depth of God’s truth. This, to me, is contemplation. Submission to the teaching. Psalm 62: I am standing in absolute stillness, silent before the One I love.
That verse in Matthew 4, the words of Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, have filled me and enchanted me for a week, since my friend and I first wondered how many word Jesus spoke. That verse has silenced me, stilled me. The power of the words of Jesus, these 31,000 words, changing the world forever, and the power of the Word, the power of the Scriptures, Jesus the Word… the living Word, risen and victorious, here in my heart, I am paralysed with wonder.
So. Tomorrow, on the beach, that’s what I’ll be thinking about and praying about. Meditating on the word ‘Word’.
If you’re down there, wander over and share some thoughts, you, me and God.
While I’m here…. want to know more about life with God?
There’s a great series on discipleship, simply go to