I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Elaine Breckenridge’s reflection on the spirituality of the tides.
Living on Camano Island, Washington, an island governed by the tides, has taught me about the reality of rhythm and change. I know that every six hours the land and waterscapes will look different and usually I am comfortable with that. But just when I think I know what to expect with the changing tide—surprise! One day, there will be new logs that have washed up and now block a popular walking trail. Another day, the color of the water is a shade never seen before. Low tide or high tide, the landscape and water are ever changing.
One early evening, I took a walk at a local beach. I knew that the flood tide was going to be higher than usual and I also knew that its peak would be in thirty minutes. I walked quickly on the familiar trail. I reached the end and was exhilarated to see the fast-moving currents as the tide was rolling in and filling a surrounding stream. I lingered just a few minutes to take in the beauty and feel its energy before I headed back the way I came. Oops! I had miscalculated the reality of both the height and speed of the high tide! As I approached my bridge to gain access to the end of trail, it was indeed a flood tide. The waters had washed over a section of the bridge, the only way back to the parking lot.
There was no turning back. If I did, I would be stranded for some hours and it was dusk. There was no way around the flooding stream as water was continuing to rise on both sides of the bridge. There was only going forward and through the water.
As I stepped off the bridge, I was surprised to experience how far I sank. The water was above my knees! Perhaps had I lingered longer at the end of the trail, I might have found myself up to my waist and forced to swim!
Watching and breathing with the rhythm of the tides and noticing how often the landscape is changed has become an icon into understanding the movement of the Spirit in my life. Whether it is the energy and growth of the incoming flood tide or the waning and diminishment of the outgoing ebb tide—I am seeing that the Eternal Spirit is constantly inviting me to ride the ebb and flow. Of course, she is teaching me to accept that life and my life are in a constant rhythm of change. She is also inviting me to drop my expectations about what the landscape of my life should look like. Moreover, from her, I have learned that the spiritual journey is about finding and walking my own path.
Like my adventure on the washed over section of the bridge there will always be challenges and risks involved in following my own rhythms, and walking my own path. I might find myself in and “over my head!” Yet the gift of walking my own path is enriching as my vision of religion and spirituality has become much more expansive and inclusive.
Even so, that pesky Holy Spirit seems to be once again pushing me off the current path that I had so safely constructed, and into a place of “no path.” “No path” is often the way of transition. For me, it is often easy to get off an old path. But the hurdle comes when discerning the new direction. New calls seem to demand a period of wandering. Fortunately, I find courage remembering the wandering ways of the People of Israel, the disciples of Jesus, Eastern yogis and Western saints, and my beloved Celtic peregrini.
Finding our own rhythm and walking our own paths is not to say that we are called to seek and walk alone. The presence of others and community is essential in our spiritual journeys. I liken it to walking a labyrinth with other people. Though I walk on my own path I know that I am always surrounded by others. I like knowing that there is always an opportunity to meet and even bump into other dancing monks along the way.
For now, I keep to exploring the tidal lands on Camano Island. There is no turning back to my former life. There is only going forward a moment at a time with the awareness that as my inner landscape changes, I am accompanied by divine friendship. As I continue to wander and wonder I anticipate finding a new path, knowing that it too will change again. Thankfully, I’ve got rhythm! The rhythm of the tides and the steadfast love of the Spirit are my guides.
Elaine Breckenridge is a dancing monk and retired Episcopal priest living on Camano Island, Washington in Puget Sound. Besides taking Abbey Community Retreats, she enjoys spending time with two grandsons as well as beach walks and shopping at local Farmer’s Markets.