I like the beach. I am not so much a ‘bobber’ or a ‘baker’ – bobbing in the water or (sun)baking on the sand are not high on my list of fun things to do – but I like swimming and body surfing (and maybe one day I’ll even learn how to get up on a board!) and walking on the shoreline – doing things. I like the sound of the surf, the sight of the changing water, and that the horizon and clouds are a long way away. I’m not a fan of sea urchins or jelly fish (they both hurt!) and I’ve grown up being aware of much bigger sea predators but that’s just part of the environment and you learn how to live at the beach.
Charlotte and I enjoyed the beaches on our holidays in Crete. We swam at several – well, I swam and Charlotte bobbed! We and all the other beach goers had good times. You smile as you go by – enjoy seeing people being happy – all very ‘beachy’. It was when we arrived home that Charlotte mentioned that on the beach you could certainly tell who the Australians were. I was puzzled. Everyone was wearing swimming costumes; some even wore hats and sunglasses (they were also ‘bobbing’). “Think, George. What were we wearing?” Ah yes, we were somewhat overdressed in comparison – shoes, long-sleeve rash-ies, boardies, hats, sun cream. Who doesn’t want to get sunburnt? We do! (And we did wince to see quite a lot of bright red skin!) You see that’s also part of our beach experience – getting sunburnt as children – lots – and having had many ‘skin cancers’ cut out, I never want to get sunburnt again. But I still like the beach.
We learn quickly how to live in our environment. Because we are so helpless when we are young, the care, nurture, protection, and guidance from others are so important. This is true whether we are thinking of our physical environment (and why Australian pools all have none climbable fences around them and safety flags at beaches and surf life savers) but it also applies to our linguistic, cultural, social, and political environments as well. Any stay in Crete, I think, gives you a sense of history – changing environments – from the Minoans to Christianity, through to the independence movements of the 19th century, to the alignment with Greece, the movement of Muslims (sometimes compulsorily), and the Allies’ presence and German occupation in WW2.
We do not choose when we live – though we might choose where – but our living has always been one of learning how not to die in any environment and then working out what we want to do which I might summarise as comply or rebel or, of course, a personal amalgam of the two.
Charlotte and I visited Zeus’ Cave – his birthplace according to legend – necessary because his father, Cronus, was notorious for eating his children so as not to have any rivals but Zeus’ mother, Rhea, tricked Cronus and Zeus was raised on Crete. I found myself wondering what that message would have done to me had that been the religious environment in which I grew up. How would I think of things – gods, behaviour, people, even myself? Something for a parallel universe George perhaps.
However I have grown up knowing – it has always been part of me – that God loves me – and that he has done something about my selfishness, my sin, my fears and anxieties. I do not fully understand this God – think Trinity and holiness – he still judges my sin as wrong while he forgives it – and he still doesn’t give me a ‘free pass’ to behave as I like – but that this God loves and cares for me is foundational. I wonder whether there is something in the Good News of Jesus – of his death and resurrection – that breaks into any and all environ-ments and offers love in place of fear, hope in place of despair, companionship instead of anxiety, and life instead of – and beyond – death that makes it why people still today follow Jesus? No matter the environment in which we find ourselves, there is this God of grace – the face of Jesus so to speak – saying ‘I am with you always’. In one sense that makes life amazing and in another sense it makes it so much harder as we try to find the footsteps to follow on rocks and sand – but perhaps that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said that he came so that we might live – and live life to the full?