(Let me start this blog by asking you to read on in this blog even when you are at a point when you think that Stockman has become a tree hugging sentimentalist; there is substance at the end; I think!)
For over twenty years Janice and I have owned a house in Ballycastle on the north coast of Northern Ireland.
I hated Ballycastle as a kid, preferring the louder, brighter, busier main north coast town of Portrush. There was a lack of amusements in Ballycastle and I never understood my friend Sammy Mawhinney speaking of the spiritual refreshing of a walk across Ballycastle beach.
For me back then beaches were for Beach Missions and running on and Portrush and Portstewart were great running beaches; substantial sand and no stones! You grow up though and look for different things. I often think of Sammy in my deep souled times with God on what is now my favourite beach!
Ballycastle beach is framed with its lovely little town which lies snuggled in around a hill, some of it sheltered below and a few houses sitting on top of the cliff.
In the other direction is the majestic jut and
strut of the Fair Head and Scotland beyond. Rathlin island runs parallel with the beach, a few miles out from shore, and on the other side is a golf course sitting high and climbing further up there is another headland. The green fairways roll down to the blue sea with that little golden strip of sand, yes and a few stones, in between.
There are longer, wider, sandier beaches on this coast but none has the stimulation of this scenery. There are so many places for the sun to change the colours or the moon to dance across. On a summer evening with a little blue sky and sunshine it is my favourite place on earth.
When we are in Ballycastle we walk this beach almost every evening. On almost all of them I feel that am having Garden of Eden moments. When I stop for a deep breath and allow myself to take in what is happening around me I often have a sense that in a very ordinary evening walk something extraordinary and redemptive is going on around me.
I look across at Janice and know that for her this is the best place of all too. Jasmine or Caitlin or both might join us. Jed our dog is always there. Indeed, some nights when the weather is not the best he is the one who brings us out. He loves chasing his ball and the taking a wee prance into the sea or have a swim in the mouth of the Bonamargy river.
I love the sense of refreshing as the waves race up the beach and then retreat, with the evening sun’s light making beautiful colours, off hues of blue and brown.
Almost every time I am on that beach I feel like I am at one with it all. In love with life. I thank God that such moments are recurring.
(Now I told you to carry one when you got to this warm feely weely tree hugging stage, so stick with me.)
A number of years ago I was very influenced by the writings of Scot McKnight. I loved The Blue Parakeet, a
new way to read the Bible. It had made a lot of sense to me. McKnight encourages us to read the Bible as story and that story is of a oneness broken in the first three chapters of Genesis, made one again in Christ with ultimate unity ahead of us at the culmination of the Kingdom coming in its entirety. We should read the Bible in that story. That oneness of Eden, God and humanity, man and woman, humans and the animal kingdom, and indeed the earth, was an image I liked.
Dr Muthurai Swamy in his book Reconciliation: The Archbishop of Canturbury’s Lent Book 2019 take a similar stance. The idea of Christ’s mission to be one of restoring that oneness gave me a deep desire, in my ministry in Fitzroy, the 4 Corners Festival and the Cloanrd Fitzroy Fellowship, to be about bringing that reconciliation of man and God, man and woman, human and the creation and human and human out of our localised conflict.
So in those moments on the edge of the Seas of Moyle I believe I catch a glimpse of the Kingdom’s oneness. Man and woman, one in marriage, with daughter and animal and earth. They are moments when I realise that this is why I get so much physical and spiritual refreshment on this every vacation.
It is good to read the Bible’s vision for unity, good to have a theology of it, good to preach and hear sermons on it and good to pray for it but when you are living for just a moment in the tangible reality of that redemption that Christ brought then that is a spiritual place so much more potent than words or ideas. On my beach is in the truest sense of the word a God given, Christ earned blessing. More of them I say!