If you live oceanside or often visit, you'll know at least one constant: the relentless sound of the waves breaking on the beach. Although the sound may vary in intensity, it is never absent. There really is no silence here. Every waking and sleeping moment pulses with the rhythmic sound of the sea.
Rise in the morning and walk along the sand by the water, and you can sense the insecurity of the edge, feel the sand giving way, sliding back into the sea, know the now diminished but sometimes threatening power behind the sound. You look back at land and smile at the feebleness of human attempts to stop the slide, to make permanent what will not ultimately stay put: a berm of sand, planted with seagrass, sand pumped from sounds and inlets to build up beaches that, given one good hurricane, can be undercut once again, buildings with concrete and steel pilings sunk deep into bedrock, I presume, if such is a foundation here on the edge.
Seeing boats far out in the ocean, I remember the difficulties faced by those who live on the sea, who make their livelihood there, when, land bound, they lose the sound and very edginess of the sea. They go to sleep with the whisper of the breeze, or the hum of the refrigerator, and stand on floors that are frustratingly at peace, stable, and they toss and turn, miss the sound, miss the wild edge. Know it or not, the miss the wild glory of God, the sound and sense of his presence.
I want to live on the edge for 40 days. Two books may help me get there. Like some in my church, I'm utilizing Stephen Smallman's Forty Days on the Mountain: Meditations on Knowing God, as a help to knowing God and his presence in a daily sense, even perhaps hearing Him as Moses heard Him, "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend," (Ex. 33:11), even seeing His goodness and glory pass by me, to know how good but wild God really is. Smallman's book is a meditation on Exodus 32-34, the account of his very direct dealings with Moses, the reluctant prophet, and it moves us toward a richer prayer life and relationship with God.
The other help to seeing comes from John Stilgore's Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. Stilgore is a Professor of Landscape History at Harvard meaning, from what I can tell, he does a lot of meandering around the countryside on bike and by foot, ruminating on what he sees. His book is an extended exercise in developing what he calls "visual acuity," which simply means learning to really look at and wonder about ordinary things, like fences and power lines and commercial strips and highways --- all the mundane things we take for granted. As the title suggests, there is magic or wonder in the ordinary places, places we really don't see because we're too busy getting somewhere else. He slows down. He asks questions. And know it or not, in the ordinary he is seeing God's goodness and glory pass by, hearing the relentless voice of God speaking to him out of fenceposts and edges of roadways and power lines.
Life on the edge should be normative. I should be daily aware of the shifting sand under my feet, the instability of every mental construct, the pitiable nature of every human fortification against the relentless surf of God's presence. And yet I should also be aware of His constant goodness that shines, like the unveiled face of Moses, from the common, hear His voice echoing off the walls of buildings, humming from power lines, coursing in the buried infrastructure under my feet. Too often I've been a sailor off the sea, settled, comfortable, and yet missing the wild edge. So, for 40 days I'll live on the edge of the seemingly ordinary, letting it bask in the light of the vintage world of the Exodus, asking God to give Himself up to me.
I know a little about sailing, but don't expect tablets of stone.