I look forward to my walks on Swami’s beach, a local surfer’s paradise sitting below jagged, clay cliffs one hundred and forty-five steps down a massive wooden zig-zag staircase in North County San Diego. Swami’s is my running, reading, dreaming, walking, swimming, California dreaming beach. It’s my sweet spot, an altar where I pray, the place I go to escape the world, to remember God when I forget.
Do you have a sweet spot you return to for time with God, to remember God when you forget?
Just returning from a morning walk on Swami’s, the scent of ocean still on my skin, I’m filled by the refreshing wind of the Holy Spirit that I met on my morning walk.
I return to Swami’s often for many reasons, different each time. Today, I needed the shoreline’s inviting embrace, and to breathe more deeply. I wanted relief, for diligence to fall from my shoulders into crashing waves, for the tide to sweep away tangled ideas from my brain. I yearned for warm winter breezes to welcome a weekend spirit.
Swami’s, reminiscent of old time, laid back California beach life draws surfers who flock each day in black wetsuits to catch a few waves. Last summer, Bethany, the surfer who lost her arm to a shark attack in Hawaii, stood by the life guard stand, holding a surfboard, checking out the gnarly waves. All kinds of folks walk the beach, today a young mom, tanned and fit in her athletic wear, pushing babe in stroller on the sand; a young, barefoot couple sipping from Starbuck’s cups; a team of brute Navy Seals lined up in rows, forging through thick sand for good work-out. Last week a quintessential California girl with sun streaked hair hanging down past her shoulders in two braids, hula hooped her way down the shoreline in a tiny bikini, while a tall, elder man with proud, wide shoulders, emerged from the ocean like The Old Man From the Sea, wearing just tighty whiteys, pot belly hanging low over it’s elastic band. My friend Theresa told me the other day she met Simon, Swami’s beach cat with gorgeous gray tiger coloring and so friendly, He has big tag that says: “Simon -Swami’s cat”. He was perched on top one of stucco supports on staircase, people petting him on their way down and up staircase. Everything’s cool at Swami’s.
I come to Swami’s beach to seek God.
I think of the many times Jesus went to quiet places to pray, during varying circumstances, to seek God. Before starting his ministry, he spent forty days in the dry, ancient desert, fasting, filling his body, mind and spirit with God. I imagine him alone for long days and nights, beneath the wide expanse of a great sky, in heat and chill, in light and dark, scorched by the unforgiving sun, watching the changing patterns of the wide, lonely sky, the shifting forms of clouds, sheltered by the black night as he witnessed fire storms of bursting shooting stars, a wonderfest against an ebony, velvet sky — immersed in communion with God. In the heat of the desert, in his aching hunger, fed by God and God alone, Jesus’ spirit soared with strength and readiness for God’s plan for him ahead. No temptations, no evil could enter such a divine temple within.
Jesus’ desert times offers us insight for when we’re called to new projects and ministries. We go to quiet places to pray, away from noise and distractions. We retreat to our sweet spots for Godly direction, for wisdom and discernment for our path ahead. We get quiet to listen for the small voice that says, go this way. And we’re strengthened with holy fuel for what God has planned.
I visit Swami’s often these days. After a long fallow period lacking creative juice, a new creative spark, a new project peaking out of darkness, like the tip of a chick’s beak cracking through an egg, bids itself forward. Long walks on Swami’s gives me breathing room, a open-sky altar to pray for direction. Lulled by methodical,thunderous crashing waves on the shore, held in God’s arms, I gain strength, discernment,insight and courage for what’s ahead.
Returning from the desert, Jesus’ need for retreat doesn’t end when his ministry begins. When it’s still dark one early morning, he arises:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to be alone with God and pray.- ” Mark 1: 35
During important decisions, when we chose our community, our team, our fellowship, where we’ll move, what job we’ll pursue, we need to find quiet places to pray, as Jesus did in choosing the disciples.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles.” (Lk. 6:12-13).
Like Jesus, we find quiet places to go after hearing disturbing news such as an unexpected illness or the death of a loved one.
After Jesus hears about the beheading of John the Baptist, he retreats:
“When Jesus heard about John, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” – Matthew 14:14
Just the same, when God’s grace brings us provisions and miracles we follow in the way of Jesus as he did after feeding the 5,000:
“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” – Matthew 14:23
When followers start flocking because our God breathed ministry or project begins mushrooming, we, like Jesus, need to go to quiet places to pray.
“..the report concerning him spread much more, and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. But he withdrew himself into the desert, and prayed.” – Luke 5:15-16
No matter what our circumstances, we retreat to our sweet spots, surrendering to receiving the spirit of God into our hearts. It is here in meeting God, that we’re prepared, comforted, guided, strengthened, and empowered to do God’s will.
Held in arms of mother nature, at the shore of her grand Pacific, I meet God. As I search for ancient shells, worn down from centuries of tumultuous seas, my bare feet grounded in the grains of sandy earth, I hold a shell in my hands, amazed by God’s creation, of it’s smooth wisdom. Catching the pattern of a pelican’s flight, awed by it’s majestic beauty, glimpsing but a sliver of God’s omnipotence, it’s as if I’m flying with them into the empty sky. As I watch one nose dive into the great Pacific, baptized by the Spirit, I dive with it into subconscious bliss, into the peace of God’s love.
Sometimes I invite friends along with me for a walk, sharing in the beauty, sharing a rare solace sliced out during our busy days. I think how Jesus did this often.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place”. – Mark 6:30-32.
Even the night before he was crucified, he brought his beloved friends with him to pray.
“And they came to a place called Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground, and began praying”. – Mark 14:32-34
And ultimately, as death calls him closer, Jesus goes out again, alone.
“He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” – Luke 22:41-44
Sometimes, as I sit on Swami’s shoreline watching the great orange sun setting beneath the thin line of the horizon, the ocean I think is like a pearl in God’s hand. Staring out toward the horizon I remember endless summer childhood days on Fire Island off Long Island, these waves of somatic memories seem like old friends visiting. I’m 8-years old in a two piece bathing suit, red, white and blue stripes, romping with my best friends, wearing a carefree smile. I breathe in the warm, soft breeze sweeping by my lips and cheeks. Everything seems in slow motion. The wide open turquoise sky with soft pastel streaks of soft pink clouds, stretches above the earth, a few white puffy clouds scattered like angels’ pillows. Tall, wispy, beach reeds sprout from silky white sands, a wooden, weather washed path leads toward the vast sea green Atlantic topped with glittering gold rays shining from the wave’s crests. Squawking seagulls fly low. Even as a girl, the grand ocean invited me into God’s majestic mystery, it’s crashing waves and misty spray, like holy water.
Fire Island was a an altar where endless summers began, and my deepening connection with God took root.
As the memories fade, God lives.
As these gems of childhood wash up to the shores of my mid life, I realize the horizon beyond Swami’s is a magical place where the sun goes to sleep every night, and rises again, just as it did long ago. And no matter how old we are, or how many days, months or years go by, the sun rises and sets, and rises again day after day, orchestrated by an omnipotent God.
Where is your sweet spot? Will you visit it soon?
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