“….who shut in the sea with doors,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors, and said,
‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
-Job 38: 8-11
No matter how deeply I soak the ground there’s no doubt that the cucumber vines in my garden are drying up and the green tomatoes are stuck; not dying but not ripening either. Some of the maple leaves in the park where I go running are tipped in red and the cicadas aren’t chanting from the late afternoon into the deep evening any more. When did they stop?
Maybe the last week in August is beautiful because it’s tinged with ending.
The other thing that’s coming to an end is my children’s supply of all the free time in the world. We’ve stayed up till after eleven watching movies and playing scrabble and then slept in. We took off on a random Wednesday to see my brother and walk across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. We rode bikes down the Creeper Trail in Virginia, played several times in the pouring rain and cumulatively ate gallons of ice cream during long, aimless walks.
Now we’re buying shoes and backpacks and getting haircuts. By this time next week, Lucy and John will be in school figuring out their schedules and learning things I’ve long ago forgotten like basic algebra, or never knew at all like how to play the saxophone. For most of their waking hours they’ll be gone to me again, being shaped a little more each day into their adult selves. If we knew all of the teachers, friends, enemies, equations, history lessons and conversations in the cafeteria that will be shaping them over the next nine months, Rose and I would probably try to stop more of it than we will. As it is, we’ll only know snapshots from what they tell us in the car or at dinner or when we covertly check their texts to try and keep them safe and children for just a little longer. And with every passing summer ahead of us, Lucy and John will have more freedom to choose Rosemary’s and my company or not.
For these reasons, on Monday I told the kids to put on their bathing suits and we went to the beach one more time. The waves were raucous when we walked waste deep into the water, holding hands and facing them. By the time they reached us, some waves turned into smooth rolling hills that lifted us as gently as an open palmed hand while others gathered speed, grew into mountains and fell on us giving barely enough warning time to fill our lungs with air. I was tossed around more than once with about as much command over my own body as a tee shirt has in the wash cycle. Each time I surfaced I instinctively and urgently searched through the crowds for John and Lucy who I’d find laughing and coughing yards away in different directions.
Renowned preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says you can only have reverence for things you can’t control. By that definition, the feeling I have when I face the ocean, wonder where my children will wind up in this wide world and think about time itself produce true reverence me. Even though my instincts strongly recommend that I cling to everything I love, I know life is precious because it’s temporary. Maybe one of the ways we learn about God is by that aching love at the ends of things that longs for what will last.
Jesus said that if he was lifted from the earth he would draw all people to himself. Is he the ache in everything we love that draws us to worship?
All I know is that I need Sundays. By praying and singing next to you I am learning how to say ‘thank you’ for what I can cherish for a little while instead of being sad or afraid of all I will inevitably lose. It’s like learning to give myself up to the ocean instead of struggling to keep on my feet. Over a life time, that piece of bread and sip of heaven we share on Sundays is teaching me to love without clinging.
Let’s practice together.