Many people like the beach because it represents vacation. A nice book, a nice tan, a nice leisurely stroll through wet, gloppy sand. Who doesn't love the beach?
I've certainly always had good beach experiences. Despite the jellyfish attack, the small crab that bit my toe, and the innumerable sunburns, I do love the beach. Especially if that beach can be visited sans bathing suit. Not as in a nude beach, though I have been to one. It was scary. Mostly because I was there with my parents. We didn't know it was a nude beach, as we were docking at the Mediterranean isle for the afternoon. I saw a gaggle of old women playing volleyball. It still hurts to think about.
I'm getting off topic. You can feel free to ask me how awkward it was to be a teenager on a nude beach with Greek people and my parents. Anyways, I do like the beach.
But when I was 14, the beach frustrated me.
For whatever reason, the powers of random acts of uniformity decided that at every camp, class, Bible test or anything else I attended was going to reference the beach. They were going to belabor the point unto infinity that GOD MADE THE BEACH AND THE BEACH WAS GOD'S FAVORITE THING AND BEACH BEACH BEACH GOD GOD GOD.
'We can know the awesomeness of God' they all said, 'because the beach is so big and so wide and so unfathomable and just so darn beautiful'.
They didn't put it that badly, of course. I just want you on my side.
I was frustrated because even though I like the beach, I had never stood at the edge of the water and been surprised to see God looking at me. Mostly I had just had that experience with the angry crab.
I thought the ocean was beautiful, of course. Breathtaking, calming, peaceful, playful, you name it. But in my mind, the beach just was another beautiful part of the world.
In my 14 years of wisdom, I decided (though if you knew the Bible classes I had to attend it might make more sense) that I must obvioulsy not believe in God. I found this to be disturbing, because I didn't feel as if I had stopped believing in God. I just thought that if I couldn't catch such a seemingly basic parallel to spirituality, I must be lacking.
So I quickly progressed to thinking that instead of doubting the existence of God, I merely couldn't see him. For someone of my background, this was no small comfort. Sure, I knew God was there. But when that trumpet sounded...I was going to be left in a house with everybody's clothes. Yep, I was a goner.
I attended yet another summer camp that year. It was held on an island off the coast of California. Before you go thinking that I had some sort of posh setup, let me set you straight. This island was the last stop before hell. There was no hot water. There was no warm water. Javelinas roamed wild. The ocean water was so cold that a large group of teenagers (including horny little boys who would do almost anything to see a girl in a bathing suit) wouldn't go near it.
But it was still pretty to look at. So I went out out on the bluff every afternoon to see the sun set over the water. I went alone, with my journal (yes, always the cool kid) and wrote and wrote and wrote my little sad heart out. It seemed that despite all those clever little sermon twists likening beachy things and spiritual things, I just wasn't going to get it.
I didn't have many friends in the church I was attending. I didn't really know the youth leaders yet, not in a way that would allow me to spill my guts about what was tantamount to heresy. I could just see myself sitting with the youth pastor, telling him that I didn't see why we kept talking about the beach; it was pretty, but didn't God walk through misty glens too?
I settled on a visiting friend; a youth leader in my former church who was visiting this wretched hole of a camp. I told her everything, biting my lip and waiting for the sharp intake of breath. Now the whole world would know that the pastor's daughter was sub-par on the spiritual terrain.
Instead, she told me that it was no big deal. She told me that not everybody sees or understands God in the same way. I could appreciate the beach for what it was, but if I didn't see those famous fingerprints in a way that overpowered me, it didn't mean my immediate dismissal from all things good.
I mulled over this information for awhile. I tried to find my 'thing', the thing that made it all click for me. I wanted so much to fit in with the hyped up spiritual crowd I always seem to find myself in the company of.
I was at school a few months later, enjoying a very healthy lunch of a bagel and orange. (I never had the foresight to pack anything and had to make do every day) I finished the bagel in halved, quartered sections just like always, and then went on to peel the orange.
I must have been talking or otherwise engaged while peeling, because I bent an orange section back so far that the thin white skin was popped open and the little orangelets inside were exposed. Shaped like little tears, their round bellies were full of juice. The smell, as always, was refreshing and intoxicating and thirst inducing.
I looked at them; they looked at me. I thought how amazing it was that despite the billions of oranges that are grown, eaten, juiced, rotted, and disposed of every year, God still makes each one look the same. Even more amazing than that was that oranges have been around for a long time. I know that we plant the seeds, water the trees and otherwise take care of them. But no human can made an orange. We just can't. So that means that even after all this time, God makes the oranges.
So far he hasn't grown tired of making them all look the same. I would have long ago tossed out the intricate seeds and layers and little bellies full of juice. I would probably have made play*doh oranges and just added a little essence de naranja.
And I found the thought very comforting. I'm not sure why. As usual, my 'aha' moments are very elementary. But I found it quite reassuring that if there was a God, and he made all the oranges all the same all the time...if he cared enough to stick to his plan and not change things around on me...that would be really cool.
And so I found God looking at me not through the majestic sunset or the mighty ocean, but under the peel of an orange.
I know it sounds really silly and perhaps even sad that the orange brought me comfort. It wasn't so much the fruit in and of itself that gave me the push to keep going. It was the idea that if I didn't experience God or spirituality the way that other people did, that was alright.
I just needed to experience it in someway that made sense to me.
Sometimes it is a song or a book, or something my child says.
But every once in awhile it is an orange...and that still makes me stop and smile.