I’ve seen this landscape before—the rugged Oregon coast, where rocky hillsides slope down to the beach. Where driftwood has been obliterated by time, and fragments of bark in the sand poke at your feet. I’ve picked up the strewn kelp, the busted-open clams and oysters, shells dropped from above by hungry seagulls. And then, the painterly Pacific—deep blue crested by white caps and the sun flecked into millions of lights, as if coins scattered across the dappled surface. The song of it, the whisper and shush. It’s been decades since I last felt the sea mist of this place on my skin—the only times as a boy, when my family briefly lived in Oregon. There, on the few occasions we drove to the coast, I stood on the rocks, looking out in the same way countless others have for millennia. Watching the ocean’s comings and goings—witnessing the sun’s rise and fall into and out of brilliant color.
To this day, moments like the one Dr. Stanley captured in Cape Blanco State Park, have a way of drawing me out of the clutter of my everyday life and toward a more elemental version of me. Something closer to the true self, I’d venture, suddenly visible again through the stark simplicity of sky, water, and sand. I find in those moments, with everything else stripped away—including all the debris of my discontent—a different kind of hunger, one coming from the soul. One I often can’t hear calling out for the small, still nature of its voice. Alone on a rugged beach, far from the trappings of tourism, there’s no performance, no place to apply my usual expectations or perfectionism. Nothing to achieve or improve or judge or possess. There’s only my smallness and the austere beauty of the untamable—a second sky rolling in and out beneath the clouds. The hunger I feel when standing on the shore with miles of land behind me is a one not for the ocean itself or the promise of what lies on the other side of it. The hunger is for the mystery, the beauty, the love that sustains it and every living thing beneath its surface. The yearning for a simple, pure connection with God Himself.
Of course, beyond these intimate moments where the water calls me to a kind of prayer and worship, I can’t look at a seascape without thinking of the story in Matthew 14:22-33 that has haunted and inspired me since I was a boy—Jesus walking on water and calling for Peter to come to Him. The disciple’s deep hunger, his uncertain steps, and the image of him sinking in fear. From where I sit, feet in the sand, I’ll look out across the waves and consider what it would be like to see the Lord, walking toward me from the horizon. I’d like to think that, despite the many seasons of my doubt, the many years of my rebellion, I would race headlong into the surf and swim until I reached Him. And that if He called me to stand up and walk, I’d be willing to risk sinking if it meant just once I could look Him in the face—to see and know His patience and love, standing eye to eye.
Photograph by Charles F. Stanley