The Power to Shape Our Experiences

contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

For me, settling in my chair for a “day at the beach” brings forth texts from the Psalms that shape my experience of the moment. Remembered verses from biblical texts join with the remembered experiences of past days at the beach and increase my expectation of delight throughout the day and refreshment upon my departure.

Psalm 95:3-5. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the mountains are also his. The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 96 1,11. O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. . . . Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that is in it.

Psalm 104: 24-25. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. So is this great and wide sea, where there are innumerable creeping things, living things, both small and great.

Yet for others a “day at the beach” is really, well, not “a day at the beach”. The beaches of the Mediterranean may bring physical relief to those who reach them as they transit across the waters from dangers in their home countries, but the desired economic and social relief may never materialize. D-Day and Normandy Beach (among others) saw thousands killed.

Indeed, Job’s metaphor (6:2-3a) rings true in these instances: Oh that my torments were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid on the scales! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea.

My day at the beach changes with the somber recognition of other experiences of “beach” than my own current one. My worries about having enough sunscreen or needing water shoes to soften walking the rocky shoreline into the surf or getting sand in my lunch shift to deeper thoughts.

Job 28:12-14. But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its price; nor is it found in the land of the living. The depth says, “It is not in me”; and the sea says, “It is not with me”.

Job 38:1-11. Then the Lord answered Job from the stormy wind, and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you will answer me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ Declare, if you have understanding. ‘Who determined its measures,’ do you know? Or ‘who has stretched the line upon it? Upon what are its foundations fastened?’ Or ‘who laid its corner stone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’ Or ‘who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as if it had issued from the womb, when I made the cloud its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, but no further; and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?’”

My “day at the beach” becomes a lesson I hadn’t sought, a sobering reminder that this “day at the beach” is no such thing for me, either. The words and texts I learned and remembered “way back when” have the power to shape my experience in the present in multiple directions. The seriousness of life I sought to escape found me, and, I hope it was for the better.

Been to the beach this summer?  How was it for you?