Introductory Note:

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was wife to Charles Lindbergh. Always in the spotlight, the couple became the object of much media attention when their firstborn son was kidnapped and later found dead. Devastated by the tragedy, Anne spent a month in solitude on an island on the Atlantic shore in search of clarity and peace. Her published book, A Gift from the Sea, conveys the rich insights she received in her meditations on the movement of the sea. The following excerpt, from the Spiritual Classics, invites us to frame our own joys, losses and sorrows in the light of God’s gracious rhythm.

Miriam Dixon

The Silent Beach, the Bowl of Stars

Rela­tion­ship is not stran­gled by claims. Inti­ma­cy is tem­pered by light­ness of touch. We have moved through our day like dancers, not need­ing to touch more than light­ly because we were instinc­tive­ly mov­ing to the same rhythm.

A good rela­tion­ship has a pat­tern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The part­ners do not need to hold on tight­ly, because they move con­fi­dent­ly in the same pat­tern, intri­cate but gay and swift and free, like a coun­try dance of Mozart’s. To touch heav­i­ly would be to arrest the pat­tern and freeze the move­ment, to check the end­less­ly chang­ing beau­ty of its unfold­ing. There is no place here for the pos­ses­sive clutch, the cling­ing arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in pass­ing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back — it does not mat­ter which. Because they know they are part­ners mov­ing to the same rhythm, cre­at­ing a pat­tern togeth­er, and being invis­i­bly nour­ished by it.

The joy of such a pat­tern is not only the joy of cre­ation or the joy of par­tic­i­pa­tion, it is also the joy of liv­ing in the moment. Light­ness of touch and liv­ing in the moment are intertwined.

When the heart is flood­ed with love

But how does one learn this tech­nique of the dance? Why is it so dif­fi­cult? What makes us hes­i­tate and stum­ble? It is fear, I think, that makes one cling nos­tal­gi­cal­ly to the last moment or clutch greed­i­ly toward the next.… But how to exor­cize it? It can only be exor­cized by its oppo­site, love. When the heart is flood­ed with love there is no room in it for fear, for doubt, for hes­i­ta­tion. And it is this lack of fear that makes for the dance. When each part­ner loves so com­plete­ly that he has for­got­ten to ask him­self whether or not he is loved in return; when he only knows that he loves and is mov­ing to its music — then, and then only, are two peo­ple able to dance per­fect­ly in tune to the same rhythm.

But is this all to the rela­tion­ship of the arg­onau­ta — this pri­vate pat­tern of two dancers per­fect­ly in time? Should they not also be in tune with a larg­er rhythm, a nat­ur­al swing­ing of the pen­du­lum between shar­ing and soli­tude; between the inti­mate and the abstract; between the par­tic­u­lar and the uni­ver­sal, the near and the far? And is it not the swing­ing of the pen­du­lum between these oppo­site poles that makes a rela­tion­ship nour­ish­ing? Yeats once said that the supreme expe­ri­ence of life was to share pro­found thought and then to touch.” But it takes both.

Sep­a­rat­ing and uniting

First touch, inti­mate touch of the per­son­al and par­tic­u­lar (the chores in the kitchen, the talk by the fire); then the loss of inti­ma­cy in the great stream of the imper­son­al and abstract (the silent beach, the bowl of stars over­head). Both part­ners are lost in a com­mon sea of the uni­ver­sal which absorbs and yet frees, which sep­a­rates and yet unites. Is this not what the more mature rela­tion­ship, the meet­ing of two soli­tudes, is meant to be? The dou­ble-sun­rise stage was only inti­mate and per­son­al. The oys­ter bed was caught in the par­tic­u­lar and the func­tion­al. But the arg­onau­ta, should they not be able to swing from the inti­mate and the par­tic­u­lar and the func­tion­al out into the abstract and the uni­ver­sal, and then back to the per­son­al again?

And in this image of the pen­du­lum swing­ing in easy rhythm between oppo­site poles, is there not a clue to the prob­lem of rela­tion­ships as a whole? Is there not here even a hint of an under­stand­ing and an accep­tance of the winged life of rela­tion­ships, of their eter­nal ebb and flow, of their inevitable intermittency?

The ebb and flow of life

When you love some­one you do not love them all the time, in exact­ly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impos­si­bil­i­ty. It is even a lie to pre­tend to. And yet this is exact­ly what most of us demand. We have so lit­tle faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of rela­tion­ships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in ter­ror its ebb. We are afraid it will nev­er return. We insist on per­ma­nen­cy, on dura­tion, on con­ti­nu­ity; when the only con­ti­nu­ity pos­si­ble, in life as in love, is in growth, in flu­id­i­ty — in free­dom, in the sense that the dancers are free, bare­ly touch­ing as they pass, but part­ners in the same pattern.

The only real secu­ri­ty is not in own­ing or pos­sess­ing, not in demand­ing or expect­ing, not in hop­ing, even. Secu­ri­ty in a rela­tion­ship lies nei­ther in look­ing back to what it was in nos­tal­gia, nor for­ward to what it might be in dread or antic­i­pa­tion, but liv­ing in the present rela­tion­ship and accept­ing it as it is now. For rela­tion­ships, too, must be like islands. One must accept them for what they are here and now, with­in their lim­its — islands, sur­round­ed and inter­rupt­ed by the sea, con­tin­u­al­ly vis­it­ed and aban­doned by the tides. 

The most impor­tant thing

How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one’s exis­tence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is eas­i­er to under­stand here on the beach, where the breath­less­ly still ebb-tides reveal anoth­er life below the lev­el which mor­tals usu­al­ly reach. In this crys­talline moment of sus­pense, one has a sud­den rev­e­la­tion of the secret king­dom at the bot­tom of the sea. Here in the shal­low flats one finds, wad­ing through warm rip­ples, great horse-conchs piv­ot­ing on a leg; white sand dol­lars, mar­ble medal­lions engraved in the mud; and log myr­i­ads of bright- col­ored cochi­na-clams, glis­ten­ing in the foam, their shells open­ing and shut­ting like but­ter­flies’ wings. So beau­ti­ful is the still hour of the sea’s with­draw­al, as beau­ti­ful as the sea’s return when the encroach­ing waves pound up the beach, press­ing to reach those dark rum­pled chains of sea­weed which mark the last high tide.

Per­haps this is the most impor­tant thing for me to take back from beach-liv­ing: sim­ply the mem­o­ry that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a rela­tion­ship is valid. And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pock­et. They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally.

Read Mimi Dixon­s’s per­son­al reflec­tion on this piece.

Excerpts tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. Harper­collins, 2000.)

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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