I do not affiliate with any particular religion but accepted an invitation from a friend who was leading a church retreat at the NJ shore. I enjoy meeting other people, and a gathering of women is almost always a good thing. I was not sure how comfortable it would be; however, to be “talking God” with people who all know each other from their home parish but my friend readily agreed when I told her I might not attend all the sessions. In the back of my mind, I was clicking off the nearby places that sheltered the northern shorebirds bouncing the winter away on the waves of the Atlantic coastline.
In truth, I experience God not so much in the formality of liturgy but in the Law of the natural world. I can trust that water will always run downhill. I know the leaves will change color in the fall. I know the oak trees will spill their acorns, and some will thrive and some will not. So after the morning session, when one woman shared her story of faith despite a heartbreaking series of events that included the death of a 17 day-old granddaughter and everyone around our table murmured grateful prayers of God’s love, I could only contemplate about how really pissed off I was at him at the moment. So after checking in with my friend, I left. I retreated from the Retreat House.
I drove south to Barnegat Lighthouse, tromped down the sidewalk to the mile-long platform of Volkswagen-sized boulders and hopped, skipped and jumped from one to the next with my binoculars and camera slung around my neck and a telescope balanced over my left shoulder. Just went out with my wild lone, slipping through the afternoon moments like the loons under the waves. A flock of Long-tailed Ducks sparkled in the distance. Strings of Brant slid along the side wall of the rocks. When I finally reached the end of the pier where the waves were pushing the rising tide toward shore, I almost fell to my knees in amazement at the shocking cinnamon of the Harlequin ducks.
It was my kind of gratitude: The earth and all who are assembled in it, the seaweed floating in cold water, the hiss and slap of ocean waves, alabaster shells, the brittle field grass, the incoming tide fingering its way into the dark secrets of the rocky pier. It is a fire in my bones, a lusty love affair with sea and sky, trail and timber. These are my prayer books, my devotions, my communion.