Surfing with the Spirit: Two Lessons Learned on California’s Coast

Surf’s Up!

SurfingI have lived most of my life east of the Mississippi, but two of my best summers were spent on the West Coast, in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. Naturally, no one can be so close to the coast without going to the beach, so during those summers I spent a lot of my down time enjoying the sun, sand, and surf – although I enjoyed the latter less than the former two. My first time at a California beach, I enthusiastically went clad in a wet suit and armed with a surfboard, quixotically thinking that I would be able to surf by the end of the day. Little did I know.

Surfers have developed a rich vocabulary for describing different nuances of their pastime, one of which is a noun-turned-verb: “to pearl”. I am not sure of its etymology, but I soon became all

"Pearling"
“Pearling”

too aware of its meaning.  “To pearl” is to lose one’s balance while on top of a wave in such a way that the front of the surfboard tips downward depositing the surfer and board into the trough below. As you can imagine, the higher the wave, the deeper the trough, the more painful the impact – especially with a 6-foot surfboard attached to your ankle. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time “pearling” and ended my day with numerous bruises and a new appreciation for the power of the Pacific Ocean.

Letting Go

Thankfully, God uses even painful and humiliating circumstances to speak to us, and my failed effort to surf was no exception. What he was trying to say came clear to me as I read the following quote from Fr. Walter Ciszek:

By renouncing finally and completely all control of my life and my future destiny, I was…freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul.

Fr. Ciszek was an American Jesuit priest who lived as a clandestine

Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. I highly suggest his books "With God in Russia" and "He Leadeth Me".
Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. I highly suggest his books “With God in Russia” and “He Leadeth Me”.

missionary in the Soviet Union from 1939 until 1963.  The challenges that he faced are enough for a whole other blog (hopefully to be written in the near future), but for now I will just say that the piece of wisdom written above came to him only after many years of incredible hardship and frustration that brought him to the brink of despair more than once. All he wanted to do was bring people closer to God, yet everywhere he turned, he was rebuffed. It was not until he realized that the success of his work was up to God, not him, that he finally found peace. When he finally let go, he found serenity and freedom.

So, what does this have to with surfing? The image that Fr. Ciszek uses of “floating serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence” seemed to me a pleasant alternative to my unsuccessful attempts to harness the Pacific tide on top of a surfboard. My time at the beach, I realized, would have been so much more peaceful and enjoyable if I had let go of the unrealistic dream of learning how to surf in a single day. Sure, if I had the time and money, I could have hired an instructor and learned how to surf, but that was beyond my possibilities. I should have simply let go and enjoyed what God had seen fit to give me: a beautiful day at the beach.

Letting God be God

I experienced the positive side of this lesson late in my last summer in California. Desiring a personal retreat day, I got into the car and drove down CA – 1 to Point Lobos State Reserve, a beautiful seaside park about an hour and a half south of the Bay Area. I spent the day hiking around the gorgeous coves that can be found there, admiring the abundance of marine wildlife. The reserve includes a massive kelp forest around which a diverse ecosystem flourishes. Besides a wide variety of sea birds, I saw a large number of sea mammals as well, including seals, porpoises, sea lions and sea otters.

I enjoyed watching the animals (especially the playful otters), sea_otter_raftbut I had been hoping to see whales more than anything else. I had seen orcas before at Sea World, but I really wanted to see the massive humpbacks that dwell along the West Coast. I got fixated on this desire and started thinking of ways to make it happen, even considering the possibility of spending money to go on an overpriced whale-watching boat. But as I was getting worked up trying to force things to happen, I remembered Fr. Ciszek’s quote about letting go and trusting in God’s providence. Why ruin my day worrying about something beyond my control? If God wanted me to see whales, He would arrange it!

So, I let go of that desire and I settled down to enjoy what was already more than enough: beautiful weather, beautiful animals, and a whole day to myself. Finding a nice ledge to sit on, I got out my binoculars to watch a large colony sea lions, which turned out to be quite entertaining. Male sea lions are very protective of their harems, so they are always looking around suspiciously, barking at and bumping into any male who gets too close. As I was enjoying the spectacle, and thanking God for the opportunity to enjoy His creation, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Grabbing my binoculars, I scanned the horizon and, sure enough, I saw a big spout:A humpback whale is seen near the coast of Mazatlan a humpback whale! It got closer and closer until it was within 300 yards of where I was sitting, moving along with slow majesty. It turned out to be the first of a whole of pod, so I ended up getting a close look at 10 in total. Someone who was sitting nearby looked at me with amazement and said, “They never come in this close!”

So, I learned that if you stopped worrying and just let God be in control, He will take care of everything – even the small little things that make us happy. As it says in Psalm 37:

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

Just Let God Love You!

We waste too much energy trying control the uncontrollable when all we have to do is relax and let God love us. The next time you feel yourself getting anxious and tense about something, say a prayer and leave the rest to God. Do what is within your sphere of influence, but then forget about everything else. You will be

Floating serenly
Floating serenely

surprised at how well things will turn out when you give God room to act! He really does all the work; all you have to do is  “float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul”. That’s how much He loves you.

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6 thoughts on “Surfing with the Spirit: Two Lessons Learned on California’s Coast”

  1. I loved Floating serenely picture! As a DRE of my parish, frustation cames quiet to often and stress along with it.. This meditation is just on time. I want to do my work with Joy and only for His Kingdom and Will…
    Thank you Br.Eric…In Xto. Rosario

    Like

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