The cool crisp air of Sunday morning transported me back in time.
I had driven to the beach and then proceeded to walk ten minutes away from the crowds. It’s not just because of COVID, I’ve been doing this for years. I thrive in solitude and coming to the beach for a peaceful retreat only to be surrounded by loud people, cigarette smoke, screaming children, and country music blaring from a radio is, in a word, awful. I love having my own private beach away from the noise and tourists.
And I don’t mind the walk.
This morning’s walk, alone, barefoot in the sand, clad in a bikini, a haute couture beach tunic, and my trusty beach bag, brought back memories of my church walk in the early 2000’s.
Usually clad in khakis, a nice plain t-shirt, and fake leather shoes, carrying my Bible, I used to walk the mile and a half from my off-campus college apartment to church. The mid-spring weather of Normal, Illinois felt exactly like this morning at Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Back then, I walked the main drag until I cut through a middle class neighborhood with award winning lawns and fulfilled American dreams. This took me to the other main drag and my church was a hop, skip, and a jump from the intersection.
Walking and being alone with my thoughts has had a restorative effect on my life and I am thankful I have had this practice since my youth.
“Do you need a ride home?” a church goer would ask, shocked that I would choose to walk all the way back towards campus. Never mind I had a car, I took the extra twenty minutes to mull over the sermon and try to get myself in a cool frame of mind for the upcoming week. It was also a perfect way to enjoy the weather.
I admit it feels weird, walking along side the Atlantic when I would normally be at church. Even though my church isn’t traditional in the sense of dress codes or even a building, it still feels odd. I haven’t been to church since late February. Or maybe it was early March….? I can’t even remember the last time I had communion. Our Bible Study attempted to meet despite the social distancing orders. I abstained. I have a husband who works in the medical field and has all the risk factors for being hooked up to a ventilator. Did one of my patients have it and give it to me, a possible asymptomatic carrier? My own immune system is set on destroying my own tissues, let alone defeating something new and deadly. Too many variables, too many loved ones.
This morning I found myself plopping down on a beach towel half naked instead of conservative clothing in a chair at a semi-outdoor service a bit of a drive from my house. I was so far away from the wooden pews and order of my college church, it didn’t even register. Instead of reading the God-breathed text of the Bible and standing quietly as the hymns are sung (I have amusia), I opened my Kindle to “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a book written by at 14th century monk in England – the whole book written in old English was a bear to read – about contemplative prayer – praying in silence before God. It predates the Reformation – yet the ocean waves lapping at the shore reminded me that God’s word doesn’t kotow to our human constructs of doctrine or time.
I missed my church in Normal. Last I saw, they are thriving. I hope to visit them again when I find myself in Normal on a Sunday. I miss my church here in Wilmington. If I wasn’t working, I’d be out there, offering hope and meals to the unsheltered members of our congregation. I can’t risk their health right now.
My time in Normal was, as I counted, three lifetimes ago. My life is not what it was back then. I’m afraid this virus will usher in a new lifetime – I don’t know what the future holds or when I’ll be back worshiping with my church family. I can tell you that now is too soon for my kind.
Despite all the changes in scenery and norms, the ocean reminds me that He rules over it all. He set the tides. He brings the hurricanes. He calms the waters.
And He alone will lead us all in our walk: on foot, through neighborhoods, beaches, or cities.