Friday, September 4, 2009


People love to stroll along the edge of the North American continent, lazily beachcombing among the driftwood for treasures washed in by the latest high tide. As we walk, our eyes gaze long and far out across the silver-blue Pacific. With pink and orange cirrus clouds flying high overhead, we stand as statutes at sunset, looking for the ever elusive green flash, gazing as if we were expecting the arrival of some flotilla, or some sea-farer coming to make land before nightfall.

As Jonah once looked westward, considering his options, so we stand at the shore to ponder our life’s direction. Do we head east into the heat of the desert to confront our fears in the face of enemies? Or do we head west into the heart of the sea to face the fierce gale force power of God’s breath upon the open sea? Our choice. By God’s grace, Jonah got a second chance, allowed to taste both saltwater and the stinging taste of Assyrian sand. Neither tasted as sweet as the ‘grace upon grace’ Jonah received from the deep, compassionate heart of God.

In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. from the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas. [1]

Jonah’s deliverance offers what I consider one of the funniest and most profound sentences in the entire Bible: “And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”[2] By God’s grace, Jonah himself became piece of driftwood, an event Jesus describes as “the sign of Jonah”, the only heavenly sign his generation would receive. What exactly is the ‘sign of Jonah’? Nothing less than God’s grace revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, prefigured in Jonah being swallowed and spit out three days later.

Daily, the sea spits out new treasures, unveiling wonders to the human eye and human heart. Whenever I walk the beach, my eye looks for these gifts from the sea. It’s what I’ve come to call ‘grace-hunting’, or looking for tangible signs of God’s gifts in the ordinary places of daily life. Beachcombing spirituality. And sweetest of all, we don’t need our toes in the sand to discover the gifts from God’s ocean of generosity. We need only have the eyes to see the gift of life lying all around us. It is what Gerard Manley Hopkins described in his ‘kingfisher’ sonnet:

For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.[3]

1. Jonah 2:2-3
2. Jonah 2:10
3. Gerard Manley Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, from Poems and Prose, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1963), 51. In Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Peterson explores the spirituality of attentive wonder before the grace of Christ, drawing upon the poetry of Hopkins, including the poem quoted here.

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