Counting grains of sand


21 Jan 2015

The house in Gerroa, on the South Coast of New South Wales, where I was staying in January, is on the edge of paradise. It looks down over the river mouth along the Seven Mile Beach to the Shoalhaven Heads. It is a family beach. Each day young families come down together to the beach. Mums and dads gently introduce toddlers to the water, jumping the waves together. They put the older ones on little boards, slap sunscreen and push hats on them, and stand by the edge of the water, watching to make sure all is well. They make sand castles and see the beach afresh through the eyes of their children.
As I sit high above the beach, the scene reminds me of the last day of creation when God rested, saw all he had made, and saw that it was good. Here the beauty of sea and sky, the gentle nurturing of parents and the explorations of children are all very good. At a time when the public world is full of stories of bombings, terror, of desperate people callously abandoned on Manus Island, abandonment, and of the ordinary shackling of human beings to the economy, the beach is a reminder of what matters: ordinary goodness and joy in being together at play.
It is also an image of God’s care for us – a God who gives us the world as a place of beauty, a place to explore, a place to make a home in, and a place to play. Here we can be bold and make mistakes because we know that God is with us both in the shallows and when daring the waves.
The beach illuminates what prayer about. The learning and nurturing that go on at the beach are not a work or a duty. They are a delight. It would be a pity to freeze them into words and fit them into a manual. Their natural joy and attentiveness are their own point.
Prayer is best like that, too. Our walking and our working are a form of prayer. And, like time at the beach, a space found for prayer is a delight. Of course, we may be burned by the sun, attacked by sand flies, have to flee a sudden storm and confront our fears of high surf, sharks and jelly fish. But we know that we are not alone.

Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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