While I am not one prone to beach holidays I do like a deserted Scottish beach with its miles of sand, or pebbles and rock pools. It was the former I found myself on one sunny May afternoon whilst on holiday recently. The few other visitors on the beach, mostly dog walkers didn’t stay very long and neither did the sea, for the tide was on the way out. Within minutes more empty sand was laid before us as within an hour the beach had more than doubled in size and kept growing.
I found my mind caught up as if I too was caught on the tide, drifting to stories that have been told for centuries. Stories of Abraham and Moses; of John the Baptist and Ruth; of Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach and calming the storm; of people on journeys, of people in times of change and shifting prospective. The cornerstone of each and every story was God’s presence, God’s blessings, God’s provision. As the Holy Spirit led me a merry dance around a myriad of stories, she also kept also leading me back to Joshua and Psalm 139.
Joshua called out twelve from the People of Israel, one from each tribe. Joshua directed them, “Cross to the middle of the Jordan and take your place in front of the Chest of God, your God. Each of you heft a stone to your shoulder, a stone for each of the tribes of the People of Israel, so you’ll have something later to mark the occasion. When your children ask you, ‘What are these stones to you?’ you’ll say, ‘The flow of the Jordan was stopped in front of the Chest of the Covenant of God as it crossed the Jordan—stopped in its tracks. These stones are a permanent memorial for the People of Israel.’” The People of Israel did exactly as Joshua commanded: They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan—a stone for each of the twelve tribes, just as God had instructed Joshua—carried them across with them to the camp, and set them down there. Joshua set up the twelve stones taken from the middle of the Jordan that had marked the place where the priests who carried the Chest of the Covenant had stood. The priests carrying God’s Chest of the Covenant came up from the middle of the Jordan. As soon as the soles of the priests’ feet touched dry land, the Jordan’s waters resumed their flow within the banks, just as before. The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month. They set up camp at The Gilgal (The Circle) to the east of Jericho. Joshua erected a monument at The Gilgal, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ “Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.”
Joshua 4 adapt (The Message)
As we journey through life we leave markers, sometimes stones, sometimes other things. They mark particularly precious or important moments in our lives. While I was on holiday one of those moments came to pass.
On Friday, St Andrew’s in Milngavie instituted their new Rector. A new beginning, a promise realised, a point on a continuing journey with God to be marked. In years to come the events of that day will be looked back upon and the story will be told of the journey to that place and time, the story of faith and hope believed in and lived out, the story of God’s guiding and faithfulness.
It isn’t a new journey but a continuation of one that has been traversed for many years and will be for many more to come.
When a tide recedes we can not foretell how the water will pattern the sand, we do not know which stones might of might not be left behind. In a similar vein we can not predict what the future holds of St Andrew’s, but with God as their guide they will continue to make patterns in the Holy Ground of Milngavie. Proclaiming God’s beauty and wonder, declaring God’s love and glory, journeying onward with God as their continuing guide. And I continue to believe that God has great plans in store for them and many more markers for them to celebrate.
St Andrew’s will forever hold a special place in my heart and prayers for it has left its mark upon my being, however it is no longer part of my journey. The Holy Spirit nudged me, as she does, to move on, to leave the stones and patterns on that Holy Ground and remember other stories and promises.
I turned away from the sea and headed to sit on the sand dunes.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.
Psalm 139:17-18 (RSV)
Psalm 139 is one of my favourite psalms, throughout it there are words of comfort and encouragement, of love and of hope, words to assure and to challenge. These two verses kept going round and round in my head as I sat in the sand and let it run through my fingers and work its way between my toes.
Even in a mere handful of sand there were grains of white and various shades of yellow, grains of orange and every hue of brown. I couldn’t even count the number grains in one handful never mind all the grains in just that one bit of beach I could see, yet each grain numbered one of God’s blessings.
It is mind boggling, I could only hold so many grains in my hand and they were but a minuscule number of the grains on just that one beach. How vast the sum of them, and each one a blessing. Some of the grains stuck to my hands refusing to be brushed off, I found myself asking God to help me understand the importance of those grains and blessings in my life, to help me value them rather than brush them away. As I looked at the various colours and let the grains trickle though my fingers I prayed that I wouldn’t take God’s blessings for granted, letting them slip through my fingers. For a long time I played with the sand as I prayed and gave thanks for so many blessings, on that Holy Ground, God blessed me once more and the beach, already vast, grew by one more grain of sand.