Beach Buddha

We all have heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Most of the time when I hear that, I don’t even think about it.  It is so commonplace that it really does not pack the punch it originally must have done.  It feels worn out.  But I am in the middle of an experience that is making that old saying seem real.  I received a picture.

When I received the picture in an email, I immediately recognized the figure.  It was my little granddaughter sitting in the water.  They have been on vacation at the ocean.  So I knew the scene, although I have never been to that particular place.  She is sitting by herself in the water just off the shore.  The waves are gently coming toward her as you see more coming in the background.

I have basically a side-view look at her.  I can see her face, but not into face.  Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail, so her full face is exposed.  She sits with her legs apart and her arms dangling down between her legs with her hands in the water next to her feet also planted in the water.

It is a bright, cloudless day.  The picture suggests there is not another soul to be seen.  I am sure her mom is close by, but the picture itself suggests pure solitude.  She is by herself with her gaze outward toward the ocean.  She looks very serene.  However, when I say that, I know I am beginning to interpret rather than merely describing what I see.  When we interpret, we overlay our own framework on the picture.  But having begun that, let me take it further.

Let’s imagine my interpretation is indeed a framework for the picture of my granddaughter sitting serenely in the ocean’s water.  The picture I am going to draw is a spiritual picture.  In that picture she is the epitome of a spiritual self.  The picture is going to become a thousand words for my spiritual edification.  At the end I will ask, if she can do it, why can’t I?

I am going to give the picture a title: Beach Buddha.  I don’t know why I called it that; it essentially came to me.  But I am sure one reason it came to me that way is her posture.  She sits rather upright there in the ocean water.  But she is not uptight.  She looks very relaxed.  She reminds me of pictures of the Buddha postured meditatively.  That is the origin of the title.

I have seen Christian monks and lay folk alike in similar meditative poses.  So it is not solely a Buddhist thing.  The bottom line is that meditative pose and gaze.  She sits motionless, but with a soul in motion.  The soul is stirred by the presence of the water and the call of nature to union in the moment.  I can see just enough of her face to discern a smile.  Laughter would be too much---too raucous for that scene.

She is very centered.  Paradoxically, she seems quite centered in herself and yet participating in centeredness with the cosmic nature surrounding her.  She is deep within and far out!  These contrasts with much of my life, which is lived too much at the surface---shallow at best.  Maybe it is because I live all of my life on land where it is much more difficult to get into than the water where she sits.

Land keeps us on top of it.  Oceans invite us to step into it and be in it.  Maybe that is why oceans are a good metaphor for God.  I recall the wonderful image that George Fox, founding person of my own Quaker gang, used.  He talks about the “ocean of light and love.”  That is a good description of the place and space my granddaughter inhabits.  She is in the ocean of light and love.

Of course, I have gone wildly beyond any sure knowledge of would have of the real situation.  I know nothing more than having received the picture with no commentary.  But to me the picture has become an icon.  Icon is the Greek word for image, which comes from the Latin, imago.  So the icon is an image---a picture.  But an icon is more than that.  An icon is meant to draw you into the picture or painting and, then, beyond the image to the very Reality behind, beneath and above the image.

The icon invites us in---but deeper into the Reality which makes all things possible.  For me that is God---the Holy One.  The icon of my daughter says to me, “come on in; you too can enter the presence in which I am.”  She tells me, in effect, to sit down, relax and begin meditatively to leave the superficialities and idolatries of my life.  Get it straight and get real.  No doubt, this is why Jesus talks about children when he wanted to describe the Kingdom.

Clearly, I am too old, too gnawed by life’s experience, to do it the way she does it.  But she assures me I can do it.  She has become one with her world---and I assume that means in her own way, one with God.  It is what contemplatives call a unitive experience.  I am confident I can learn to live this way, too.

I am not jealous.  I am grateful.  Little kids can become our teachers.  In this case I happen to know my teacher!  I am grateful for this icon to show me the way---to invite me into fullness of life God intended.  That’s my Beach Buddha!

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