There’s something about being by the ocean that gives me life. Maybe it’s the connectedness to the rest of the world, by just dipping my toes in its wake. Maybe it’s the vastness and the reminder of my size compared to the power of the water and to God. Maybe it’s that salt water heals more than just physical wounds.
During college, I would drive to the ocean when I needed to think, to pray, and to be alone. (My general life rule is to never live more than an hours drive from an ocean.) One of the places I often went was the Long Island Sound, that small strip of water between the shores of Connecticut and New York. There, I would sit on the rocks, on a jetty not too far from where my parents had their first condo, where I learned to fly a kite, and where my mom took us after school one day just before a hurricane to watch the waves.
One particular day when my soul needed connectedness, vastness, and a bit of salt water, I made my way to the Sound and as I got out of my car the wind came on strong. I walked toward the sand and approached the rock jetty. (Mom, you should stop reading now). As the winds blew, the waves grew strong, and I walked slowly onto the wet rocks. The waves and the wind spoke to the state of my soul – and I wanted to conquer them. I neared the end and I stopped to turn around. Looking back at the land and the stable ground, I felt the wind slowly sway my stance. I turned around toward the vastness of the clouds and water, the horizon hazy in ocean mist and rain. I took a deep breath and I praised God, the Creator of the wind, the waves, the rock, and the solid land. I thought of the day that Jesus sat in the boat with his disciples during the storm. He slept, they panicked. I thought about the day that Jesus walked on the water and how Peter did it too. I thought about the fear Peter must have felt and, in that moment, I understood. The wind is a strong force.
My dad has this image for a painting. He’s not a painter, so when he thinks of things like this he just speaks them out loud. I’m not a painter either, so I listen to his words and I use them to paint the image in my mind. He imagines Peter wearing sunglasses. (I often picture Peter wearing sunglasses too, he seems like that kind of guy.) The painting is a close up of Peter’s face and we see the reflection of Jesus and the waves in his sunglasses. We see what he sees. We are his gaze. And we’re looking directly at Jesus.
My cousin is a painter. He paints on paper and on people’s skin. (If you are near Asbury Park, NJ and want a tattoo, look him up.) Earlier this year he painted this fantastic piece that reminds me of both the rocks I stood on by the ocean that day and my dad’s image of Jesus drawing Peter’s eyes toward Him. The waves are strong, but those rocks are firm.
On our wedding day I stood in the back of the church, arm around my dad. As I prepared myself to walk up the aisle, toward my bridegroom, I wondered – where do I look? My dad? Pastor Jeff? My friends and family all standing there, eyes on me? I quickly decided – TRENT.
It was a magical sense of relief to walk forward on such an important day, with just one person to focus on. His eyes were glued to mine (except when he blinked and looked down to wipe away a tear). It was trance-like as I walked forward and it’s crazy now to look back on photos and see other people there and see the look of deep love in my dad’s eyes. In those moments walking toward the altar, everything else melted away.
Jesus calls Himself our bridegroom, the bridegroom of the Church. The book of Revelation even talks about a wedding feast, when the Bride is made ready for the Lamb. We’re still waiting to walk down the aisle. Our eyes, gazing straight ahead.
That moment on my wedding day is what I think of when I consider fixing my eyes on Jesus. This is the moment I go back to fear starts to creep in, when my gaze slips to the world around me. I envision everything else melting away – the strong wind, the salt water spritzing my face, the voices, the lies, the chaos – my feet firmly planted to the rock and my eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith.