My brother and sister-in-law live on Cape Cod. Their house has access to a private beach. For those of you who are not Jersey-Shore goers, please understand that each one of my readers who is a Jersey Shore goer is currently mumbling to themselves about the very concept of a private beach. We’ll give them a moment, especially since I empathize with the reaction.
OK, moment over. In the case of my brother and sister-in-law I find myself in the odd position of being thankful for their private beach. How could I, who grew up watching people dodge the beach tag patrol on public beaches of the Jersey Shore, find myself in such an alien position? It all comes down to one splendid artifact.
Years ago, during some storm long-forgotten, this particular private beach had an old dock wash up on the shore and become buried in the sand. It is old, battered, and rusting. There are sharp lengths of metal protruding from it at agonizing angles. The relic is an absolute hazard, which would have caused a public beach to be closed pending it’s removal. It also happens to be a particularly stunning subject for photography. Withered, hazardous, and unusable for it’s original function it may be — but this battered object is simply beautiful.
Life is like that, I think. We all face pain and heartache and suffering in this world on some level. As a pastor I often meet people at moments of greatest distress — when the currents of life have run them aground, buried them in the sand, and pounded them without mercy. What I see in these people often surprises me, though I suppose it shouldn’t. Often, in the presence of these suffering people, I encounter beauty. The storms of life have scoured their being, and left something amazing behind. Something worn down and hazardous to our thoughts about what we need to feel “alive,” but also something that is beautiful. In times of greatest stress I have met people who are generous, loving, fearless, and kind. Their concern, despite their own pain, is often for others instead of themselves. I am humbled to be in their presence.
I have also met people who are being battered by the surf who have revealed beauty to the world, and can’t see it. It’s one of my greatest pleasures to point out to these people just how stunning an image they reveal to the world through their love, service, and sacrifice despite their own pain.
To be sure, I have met folk who display something different at the times of greatest stress — individuals scared and angry with the world, families who refuse to grieve for a lost loved one, even groups of friends who become unwelcoming and hostile to foreign incursions. When I meet such people, I find I need step back and pause. I can’t recoil from their anger, nor can I afford to be easily offended by any outright hostility I encounter. I have to remember that even these people, frustrating as they may be, are the image of God. Jesus, after all, died to redeem the miserable as well as the saintly!
As you go through life, I encourage you to explore it for the wonderful beauty created by it’s pounding surf. Maybe as you partake these wretched wonders you’ll come away surprised or humbled — you will certainly be changed, and I believe changed for the better. As we now live in a world where we are all but ordered to live in a state of post-traumatic fear, seeking the battered beauty of life might just be the medicinal rebellion we all need to take up. Christians ought to know this, though we often forget. The symbol of our salvation is, after all, the Cross.