Those of you who know me well know that I am a ‘water’ person. I love walking beside water (haven’t quite worked out how to walk on it yet!). I particularly enjoy walking along a babbling brook or a running river. It invigorates me and refreshes me. However when I am searching for peace, I walk along the beach. My favourite place to walk in search of peace has to be Morriscastle beach near Kilmuckridge in Co. Wexford. It’s the combination of steep sand dunes, firm stretches of sea hardened sand, and an ever-changing cacophony of waves and still water. When I’m there, I feel a peace that heals and blesses me. All the stresses and strains of ministry and daily life ebb and flow with the moving water. On early morning walks, the water is usually calm and still, a millpond that reflects sky and cloud in a seemingly endless dance to the very edge of the horizon. A lie-in can mean that the tidal changes are creating waves of varying intensity. Even the stormy white topped surges crashing on hidden sand banks soothes my soul. By evening time the shape, swell, and colours have changed yet again and if I have courage enough to brave the chilling sea, the wonder and magic really happens. Swimming at sunset is stunning. The setting sun glistening over gentle waves creates light and colour that dazzles and exalts. A drying walk in rising moonlight finishes the day with haunting reflections. All sounds wonderful, and romantic, and a million miles from the chaos and challenge of Covid days.
I am fortunate to have walked beaches and riversides right across the world. Each one thrills and stills in equal measure, but none could capture the peace and stillness of Morriscastle. None, until I went to Portugal a couple of years ago, to a beautiful town on the Algarve called Carvoeiro. It’s a former fishing village with a small sharp-inclined beach between rising cliffs that is developing as a tourist destination. The beach itself is nothing special, certainly not a ‘Morriscastle’ but when you climb the steep cliff there is a beautiful boardwalk high above the water, peaceful in its own way, but then you turn a corner and there are steps down into a labyrinth of sandstone rock with hollowed caves and tunnels. Every time I see it, my mind goes back to what I imagine the Holy Land to be like. The caves offer adventure and changes of light and tone, but they also offer stunning views of the aquamarine blue sea that gently floats beside them. Breathtaking and peaceful. Where Portugal thrills me, Morriscastle stills me. Many of you have experienced some of the mad schemes that God has inspired in my early morning walks on Morriscastle. Narnia Festivals, Temple Carrig Secondary school, Remembrance Exhibitions all began their journey from inspiration to completion on that long stretch of firm sand and soothing waves.
Now obviously there is no opportunity to travel to Carvoeiro this year, and no guarantee that the constant changes and challenges of Covid will allow me spend much time on Morriscastle beach, but I am resolved to prioritise these times of stillness over the coming weeks, even if just for the odd day off.
Searching for stillness needs to become our personal priority. It doesn’t matter where you find it. When I lived up North many years ago it was simply a small copse of wood with a gentle stream trickling through: But it was my hiding place, my hearth-place where I found peace. Not everyone will be able to ‘get away’ this year, not everyone could last year either, but somewhere nearby, or even a room or space in your home can become your place of peace. The disciples found it on a small boat, sailing across, the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asleep on a cushion on the floor of the boat. His previous few days filled with turmoil and trouble had shattered him. The urge to preach and teach to thousands who were hungry for meaning and hope had exhausted him. And as he slept a storm rose swiftly and violently as they are prone to do on that sea. Even life-hardened and experienced fishermen like James, John and Peter were scared. They woke the Master, stole his rest from him, and immediately he calmed the storm (Mark 4). What peace and confusion must have risen up within his disciples. What wonder must have taken their breath away, what stillness and peace must have been conceived that day as they began to put their trust in him! You see, that is the heart-beat of finding peace – Trust. Trusting in God, clinging to His hand and His promises, is where we find real and lasting peace. It matters not where we are, it is where God is when we look for Peace, right with us; where He has always been, just beside us and when we invite Him, within us. Peace may well be experienced in a place of beauty, but it is found in Him! The truth of this is clearly seen in the lives of those simple modern-day saints, who carry a God-given stillness within them that sustains them through troubled waters. They have truly found the Place of Peace.