There are a few lines in one of Eliot’s Four Quartets, The Dry Salvages, where he refers to the edge between land and sea.
“…. The sea is all about us; the sea is the land’s edge also, the granite into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses its hints of earlier and other creation…”
I have always been fascinated by the shoreline, this ever-changing definition between the land we walk on and the water on which we can journey and, now and then, enter to swim. It is the place where the detritus from the sea is washed on to the land, jumbled and broken, there to be picked over by seagulls or to be avoided by the lone walker.
Time and again, we find ourselves in a marginal space, where, swept by life’s experience, we are tossed to the edge. Surety is lost as we find ourselves asking questions to which there appear to be no answers, this edgeland within our experience. It can be a lonely place to inhabit. I remember once walking a shoreline between a vast expanse of sand dunes and open swathes of sand and the sea’s edge, ever changing, and meeting no one for over two hours.
Such a place can encourage prayer; it can also leave you with a sense of your own insignificance in the huge expanse of creation. Throughout the short passage of our passing in faith, there will be times like this, when being at the land’s edge can be perilous and we seem like just another piece of drift wood tossed up by the sea, insecure and of little consequence. That can indeed be a lonely and painful experience.
Renewal and reassurance come from the Spirit that is within us and from those we meet who are willing to put an arm of encouragement round our shoulder and walk a few steps with us.
Henri Nouwen, a man of Spirit and great honesty, collected some fine pieces in his book “With open hands”. He concludes one chapter with a short prayer.
“Dear God, Speak gently in my silence. When the loud outer noises of my surroundings and the loud inner noises of my fears keep pulling me away from you, help me to trust that you are still there, even when I am unable to hear you. Give me ears to listen to your small, soft voice saying: ‘Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and humble of heart’ Let your loving voice be my guide”.
He then poses a question “Why do I avoid silence?”, a challenge that asks us to face up to our difficulties. As we approach the feast of Pentecost may we be open to the Spirit and may we help and sustain each other on the journey.