Monday, November 29, 2010

Being Pursued


For a couple of years now, Lael and I have found a nice place in a little coastal town where we have been able to get away for a couple of days to celebrate our anniversary.  The town is small, the pace is slower than we are accustomed to, and the beach is within easy walking distance from where we are staying, providing wonderful opportunities for walking along the water's edge, or just sitting and listening to the waves or watching the sunlight on the water.  With no appointments to meet or calls to return, there is lots of time to relax, walk through town, take a nap, read a book, and enjoy un-rushed and unhurried thoughts.  To pause and be at peace.

On one of these mornings as we sat on the beach watching wet suited surfers trying to catch a ride on uncooperative waves, I noticed a man walking down the beach whose presence exuded anything but peacefulness.  He carried a small napsack slung over a well worn jacket, baggy shorts, over-sized tennis shoes and one black sock.  He seemed agitated as he walked.  I had the impression that he was looking for something or someone - but whatever it was, he clearly was not at ease.  Now and then he would pause and stare out over the water, and then at what appeared to be a small pad of paper in his hands on which he seemed to be writing something, and then reading what he had written.  He would then walk back down the beach in the other direction for awhile, pausing again, looking, waiting, and seemingly unsatisfied, retrace his steps once more.  While there was something about him that both intrigued me and drew my attention, I would also have to admit that there was also something unsettling enough about him that I really didn't mind that there was a fair amount of distance that separated us. 

After he had continued on like this for quite some time, he finally paused, walked closer to the waters edge, and looking out over the ocean, methodically began tearing pages from the pad he held in his hand and throwing them into the air, one at a time, until they clustered all around him on the shore.  Then with what appeared to be a sense of exasperation, he turned his back to the water and walked over to a set of stairs that made their way up the face of a small cliff to the streets of the town above.  When he was about a third of the way up the stairs, he paused, and stood there on a small landing that overlooked the beach for few moments.  Then, surveying the coast line one last time, with a look of finality, he wadded up his last remaining piece of paper, tossed it over the railing down to the sand below, and turned away for the last time, making his way to the top of the stairs and disappearing into the quiet streets of the town.

Since it was now early afternoon, we collected the few things we had,and set off in search of lunch.  As we walked by the base of the stairs, I noticed the small wadded piece of paper that he had tossed over the railing in his final gesture before leaving the beach.  Curious, I picked it up and unwadded it, only to find scrawled there across the wrinkled paper, three times, in a manner that seemed to express the anxiety and agitation that he had been exuding all morning, the words "World War III."

While I certainly did not understand all of the import that those words carried for him, as I looked over at the papers he had tossed along the waters edge which had now been scattered by both birds and breeze, I couldn't help but wonder about all that must have been churning in his mind.  What were the worries or fears that pursued him, and which had shaped his experience that morning, and which continued to haunt him as his steps led him back into the sleepy little beach-side town?  While I had been enjoying the sense of peace and renewal that seemed to have caught up with me that morning at the beach, it seemed apparent that it was a very different sense of things that shaped his morning.

Just a few days before in church, we had spent some time reflecting on the last verse of the 23rd Psalm, "Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life," and what it means to be pursued in this way.  But for this man on this morning, whatever it was that was on his mind as he looked over his shoulder that morning, somehow I don't think he had the sense that what pursued him was either of those.  And as I continued to look at the wadded piece of paper in my hand, pondering what I had seen of the experience of the person who had written upon it, although we had both been in the same geographical location that morning, in many ways we were in very different places.  While I had been enjoying what it meant for what was pursing me to catch up, it seems that he was preoccupied with trying to keep ahead of whatever it was that he sensed was pursuing him.  When fear and anxiety is what gives the spring to your step, the last thing in the world you want is to be caught.  But when you realize that it is goodness and mercy that is on our heels, getting caught just might be the best thing that could happen to us.

While I really don't know much of anything about the nature of the worry or anxiety that seemed so central to the experience of the man I observed on the beach that morning, or exactly what it was that seemed to pursue and trouble him so much, I did find myself grateful for the realization of what (or  perhaps Who) it is that continues to pursue me (and Who is in pursuit of him as well, even though he may not know it).  I found myself wondering about how much energy I spend trying to get away from the worries or anxieties that at times seem to pursue me, when perhaps what I most need to do, is allow the One Who never tires of pursuing me with goodness and mercy to catch me!

Perhaps, the experience of being pursued is one that is more common to human experience than we sometimes realize.  How we understand and respond to being pursued . . . and perhaps most importantly, to the One Who pursues us,  makes all the difference in the world!

1 comment:

CCF in Pismo Beach said...

If we allow, the Holy Spirit protects us from so many troubles that I can't even count them. Even better, the Holy Spirit began protecting me before I even believed in the Holy Spirit... : Let us pray that this is so for one another, and stop worrying about the valley of the shadow of death and such. Let us live today the way Jesus would have us live, not fearing the future. CCF