“I am a total failure, God. I must have missed opportunities, focused on the wrong things, been too selfish. Years of trying to serve You, with no results. At least, that’s the story I’m telling myself to interpret what happened. What is Your story, Your perspective on my past?”
A wise friend encouraged me to ask God these questions while I was on retreat, at the beach. The sky was a clear, deep blue, the sand was warm, soft, and golden, and I walked alone during off-season on a quiet cape. The waves rolled in with a relaxing rhythm, washing my bare feet then slipping away. This time was a gift from friends, the perfect place to rest and enjoy God and His creation. I should have been totally content and at peace, but after almost two weeks of the soothing sighs of the sea, questions were surfacing that had long been hidden deep in my soul.
That day, far out on the ocean, I saw dolphins. I watched them for a long time. I wrote in my journal, “There were three or four of them, together—I just saw their fins and backs, once a tail, when they broke the surface—playing together, it seemed. At first I thought they might be sharks and they seemed to be coming closer—but they were clearly dolphins, going down and coming up.
“So much is under the sea that we can’t see, unless we’re watching for those brief moments when something surfaces—a fish, a dolphin . . . Even the birds in the sky we can’t see clearly unless they happen to come close. Is this another lesson from You, Lord, that You are doing far more than I can see?. . .
“Thank You, Lord for that special gift! Hidden under the sea—only glimpses revealed—like Your work, Father?”
In that same trip I saw other evidences that God is doing so much more than what we see. The sands seemed smooth and empty–until a wave washed the shore and piles of coquina shells (“butterfly shells”) emerged, like jewels of pink, blue, green, yellow, and purple. They sparkled in the sun until they dug their way back under the sand to hide again. One sunset the sun hid behind a bank of black clouds. But its rays shone into the sky above and below the clouds; the sun itself was hidden, but it was there.
Another day, a hammerhead shark washed up on shore just as I was about to go in the water. A fisherman threw it back out to sea, but I was afraid to go in for a long time after that. It reminded me that not only are there good and lovely things under the sea, but there are also frightening and dangerous things. However, God is in control of those as well, and caused that one to surface just in time.
God whispered to me that He is at work, in many ways I can’t see. He gives me brief glimpses every now and then, but whatever happens is His work, not mine. I leave it in His hands.
How is this connected to Jane Austen? She clearly loved the sea, and took holidays in several seaside towns. Her descriptions of Lyme Regis in Persuasion are loving and detailed. Her final, unfinished novel Sanditon is set in a seaside resort. We don’t know if she ever saw dolphins, but dolphins are seen today near Lyme Regis and at Southampton where she lived for some time. We do know that she danced at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton! So perhaps she enjoyed the dolphins also.
Austen was expert at both hiding and revealing what is under the surface. Pride and Prejudice, for example, is full of people seeing something on the surface and making wrong assumptions about what is underneath; then eventually finding out the truth.
See “Jane Austen and the Seaside” for more about Austen and the sea.
Where have you “seen dolphins” in your life?