I’M NOT SAYING you have to have sand between your toes to know God, but I will point out that “Jesus and his disciples withdrew to the beach” (Mark 3:7, TLB). I know that people find their peace in different places, but for me there’s just something special about being by the sea.
Maybe it’s because when you stare out at the distance, where the water meets the sky, you’re looking at the only unchanging horizon on the planet (as someone once pointed out).
More likely, it’s because I feel like I am coming full circle. Sitting on the sand for a beach service just a few minutes’ walk from my house, recently, my mind went back over half a century to Sunshine Corner. That’s where my whole bumpy, meandering, stop-and-start, often exhilarating, sometimes scary, frequently gratifying, occasionally painful journey with God all began—at the coast.
Sunshine Corner was what they called the evangelistic outreach run on England’s Lincolnshire coast, one location being near to the Anderby Creek cafe and store run by my grandparents. The name was more aspirational than actual, given that the beach faced out to the bleak North Sea. People were just as likely to be wearing overcoats as swimsuits.
My grandparents weren’t religious at all, so I am not sure why they donated giveaway prizes to the organizers. Maybe because it meant an hour or so’s free child care for my sister and me, in return.
The group would round up a bunch of kids on the beach and gather them in a circle for some music, a brief morality message, and some games. (That’s me in the photo, looking a bit put out as Jane does her Helpful Big Sister thing and guides me in assisting with the object lesson).
Then they would hand out some candy and send all the kids back to their parents. Rather like with Christian speakers who visit high school assemblies these days, the aim was to create enough interest for people to accept an invitation to a more overt gospel meeting that evening.
Again, I still don’t really know how Jane and I ended up going to the church that evening. Our parents had no religious inclination, and I’d probably been inside a church on maybe one occasion for each of my four or so years. Perhaps there were more snack donations. Anyway, off we went to the service.
I remember very little except the message: all these juicy fruits were bragging about how pretty and tasty they looked, while at the same time making fun of the poor old potato, with his pitted and dirty skin. But then they were each in turn sliced in half. The boasty fruits exposed their hidden stones and knotty fibers, while the taunted potato revealed his pure white center.
What really counted, the speaker said, was not what people saw on the outside, but what you were like on the inside, in your heart. I felt a tug on mine; I knew that I wanted to be like that potato some day.
It would be many years before that finally happened, but I believe the seeds of my faith were first scattered, like those of a potato, on the sand at Sunshine Corner.