A week ago I walked along the high water mark as I always do, heading from the West Pier to Kelly’s Beach. The scalloped lines of wave ironed sand make a firmer surface in which to lay out my morning trail of footprints that will be gone with the next wave’s press. Walking along the high water mark like this also helps to keep me in the present as I have to keep an eye out for that high wave, they say it’s the seventh, but I never bother to count, that will soak my shoes.
The clouds of yesterday had broken up and formed the cumulus parasol for the sun that set fire to their outer rim. The sea was still pretty wild and just enough wind blew to puff plumes off the breakers as they jostled into position like athletes getting ready for the final sprint to the sand.
The clouds of my conflict of yesterday had also begun to break up and so the outer vista of the beach was in many ways the canvas of my mind and I felt the more urgent surge of my breath and heard it echoed in the crashing surf. Yesterday had been one of those days when the realities of the suffering world crashed into my relatively calm space. Differences of values and motivation between a colleague and I had boiled over into angry statements on his part and had brought me back to the desolate place I have been so often where I wonder why I am still bothering to hold to the old ways and values when no one seems to give a crab’s claw about them.
The tension that had hovered over me during the night was lifting when I saw three seagulls ahead on the smooth sand. From a distance one of the three seemed to have his head buried in the sand, and the other two were dancing around curiously.
As I got closer I realised that it was not the gull’s head that was on the sand but a small, whole fish that he had in his beak that gave his head an elongated look. Neither were the two other gulls dancing around, they were trying to get at the fish!
The fish holder, his grip seemed too precarious to call him “owner”, was frantic to get the fish away but it was slightly too large for him to be able to hold in his beak and fly with. So he alternated between dropping the fish and rushing at the others, careful always not to get too far from his treasure so as to risk a flank attack. Once he reached his outer safe limit he would scurry back to the fish and try to make his escape, only to be chased down by the two challengers and the sequence would begin again. The poor bird was in hellish suffering.
On any other day this event may have passed through my awareness as an interesting moment of beach life. This morning however it became a sermon. I was able to see how disturbed and perturbed one can become if you believe that what you have before you is the only fish in the sea and all that stands between you and starvation. If that is allowed to become your understanding of the world and is allowed to shape your reality, then suffering will be the result and that sense of threat will consume your life.
I saw in that seagull all the frantic fear of those who have attached too deeply to the material realms and who live out of scarcity believing that there cannot possibly be enough for everyone. I looked again at the waves and beyond where almost daily at this time of the year I see the whales playing in the deep water. Those Leviathans devour tons of krill and seafood every day, and yet I have never seen them displaying the frantic phobia of this relatively small gull before me.
How did the whales know of the abundance that this poor stressed bird hadn’t discovered? I don’t know. But I know who is experiencing the greater joy. As I left the squawking squabble behind me and gazed out to sea again, I knew whose temperament I would want to emulate in my life.
Perhaps if Jesus was teaching here on this beach this morning, he would have changed his sermon to, “Consider the whales, and don’t fuss and worry like the birds”?