the morning watch
In the dark, we slide our feet into flip flops, creeping out the door with steamy mugs of coffee balanced in our hands, with plump towels draped and dangling from our arms. Whispering, we search the sky for signs of first light, for wisps of cotton-candy pink. Carefully we descend the stairs, touching foot to plank only tenuously. When at last we turn into the shadowy street, sheltered beneath its canopy of sprawling trees, we test our voices, speaking of incidental things, raising our arms to measure the breeze against the stillness.
It is my favorite time all day. These are moments I anticipate and then gather delicately.
We hold our breath as we step into the sand, because at the end of the short walk from house to shore, it’s light enough to see. The ocean glows sleepily, flowing like quicksilver, dripping luminescence. Pearls roll in on the crests of the waves. And we give thanks.
Before the sun rises; before we have to look away from the brilliant orb sliding over the horizon, everything on the beach will reflect the warmth of her indulgent caress. The sea will catch fire; bits of shell will glint like precious metals. Even our skin will glow, kindled. Before it’s light enough to see our feet, we know the display will be stunning; a beauty entirely different than we’ve observed on any other day. In fact, it is that very anticipation that draws us eagerly from our snug beds, shrugging the cloak of sleep ahead of the dawn. Today, voluptuous clouds drift across the sky, lined in gold and cinnabar. Yesterday, the sky looked as though it were wrapped in silk, russet and watered cerulean. Truly, the bride of the sun looks breathtaking in every rendition.
As we walk, wandering in search of a place to stay and watch, our footprints press a faint path into the smooth, tender shore. We pause only to trace the journey of a Loggerhead who made her mama-way up the beach in the night. The tide brought her in close; we can see that clearly. No more than a few marked yards remain of her memorable arrival, those flippers digging into the sand, propelling her mission forth. She bumped frantically against and around human structures; we can see that too—weathered stairs now extending too deep into the heart of the beach, sandbags stacked to stave off erosion, a retaining wall now leaning into the sand. We lift our fingers in the air, tracing the sweeping arc of her progress, a few yards past where we perch our bodies now against a sea-worn piling. Her struggle onward carved an elegant drape onto the beach; a scallop-dug, hard-slogged necklace of mother-tough determination. We can tell that she eventually just ran out of time, dropping her clutch into the first soft, fluffy-dry sand that offered her any depth for digging, burying them hastily. She didn’t make it beyond the high-tide line. Her strong flipper tracks mark another sweeping arc away from that treasure-buried spot and back into the sea. With the sunlight, members of the island turtle patrol find their way onto the beach, bringing their tools and their gentle hands to rescue her eggs.
Watchfully, we settle against our salty wood seat, sipping coffee as the first bold roundness of sun slips over the silvered horizon. We have no words to describe our captivation and don’t find need of any. This light–shattering, rebuilding, turning the morning quiet on her heels, stops us still and silent, and our gratitude seeps, golden on our skin. We are, for just that time, only watchful and thankful.
When at last we turn away, blinded and unable to look any longer, this is the verse I carry with me, light on my tongue,”Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).” Something Kevin shared with me, a bit of something he read earlier in the week, blends with this and resonates deeply:
So what is faith? Faith is when you are brought to the place whereby you claim God has already heard your prayer. …True faith knows ‘it is done’ already. …If I pray for a watch and am one day able to claim that God has heard my prayer , then I have reached the point of faith, I know inwardly that I have the watch though my two hands are still empty. A few days later, the watch arrives. Christians need to know how to receive in the spirit; otherwise they have neither faith nor spiritual insight. (Watchman Nee, A Living Sacrifice, 91-92)
So what if, in asking of God, I become truly watchful and thankful over the answers to my prayers even before I catch the first glimpse of them, knowing with certainty how beautiful His Light will be before I can see my feet in the darkness? Would that my anticipation of Christ’s new-shining, glorious Presence—different but equally breathtaking in every rendition—were enough to wake me, to move me to watchful stillness, to evoke my certain thanks! And oh, that I might reflect His Presence so well that others pause to see Him shattering, rebuilding, turning me quiet on my heels, knowing that what they see is only the resplendence of His nearness.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).