We need the sun, the moon, the rivers, and the mountains and birds, the fish in the sea, to evoke a world of mystery, to evoke the sacred. (Thomas Berry)
I woke around five in the morning and, with unnatural enthusiasm, nearly jumped out of the hotel bed. Back home on the East Coast, it was eight o’clock. But here in Santa Barbara, California, it was still before dawn. I pulled on capris and a sweatshirt and, with determined stride, walked across Cabrillo Boulevard to the beach to greet the morning light.
It had been overcast for days, but I glanced up and saw stars above. No fog this morning, perhaps just ocean mist. At first I strolled along the bike path. But then I crossed over the low dune of sand and ice plant to the water’s edge. I kicked off my shoes and walked in the wet sand, the gentle surf occasionally washing over my feet. As the sun came over the mountains, the sky slowly lightened. The color was unlike any I had ever seen. The whole scene appeared like an aging photograph: the highest sky was a deep gray-indigo, the sun at the horizon glowed golden with only soft hints of rose, the mountains were still dark in shade, brown-hued sea birds reeled overhead, and the whole thing was reflected in the waters of low tide, forming a sandy mirror image.
I did not feel, however, that I was looking at a pretty picture or, like a tourist, observing a scene. Instead, at the place where the earth, water, sky, and creatures met, everything was of a piece. There was no clear distinction between individual things; instead, the hazy light endued a sense of wonder that connected the whole. I was part of it. Inwardly, I heard the words, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” from the poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins:
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Without thinking, I fell to my knees and uttered, “Thank you.”
Then, with no intention of doing so, I leaned forward and kissed the beach, wanting every part of my body to touch the wet earth. Tears streamed down my face and mingled with the sea at the continent’s edge. If people had seen me, they might have thought me a fervent Muslim prostrating in prayer, a sun worshipper at morning devotion, or a dedicated evolutionist thanking her ancestors for coming out of the waters. But I was just a person taking a walk at first light, someone who, overwhelmed with the beauty of the earth, the water, and the sky, was, quite literally, pulled to the ground by gratitude.
God is here.