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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Sitting with mom

The retreat leader shared with us that countless people had mastered Biblical passages and done all of the right religious things, but had never fully experienced the deep, deep love offered to us extravagantly by the Creator. Our work that day would be simple, she told us: construct a place in our mind’s imagination to meet with God.

She asked us to imagine a place where we had felt the Creator’s presence…a place so real to us that we could creatively place ourselves there in our minds and settle into a Holy presence. We were encouraged, as we sat with eyes closed, to picture that scene and begin to prepare our hearts for a Divine encounter.

A prayer ended her instructions. The room was filled with a sacred silence. For some, this would be a first time experience. A one-on-one encounter driven by the Spirit and not by ordered steps. She spoke once more before sending us out to a spot of our choosing on the retreat grounds. We were given this task: Go to your created space and sit with God. Listen to Him tell you this:

You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.

Stepping outside into the brilliant sunshine uncommon in the Pacific Northwest, I was drawn to a small wooden pier which extended out into a large pond lined with lily pads. No one else was there, and so I stretched out on the warm boards and felt my bones sink into the hard surface as the sun shone on my face. Taking deep breaths, I settled into my sacred place to await an encounter.

I took myself to The Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. It derives its name from the fact that if you sit on the sandy bluffs above the surfline, when winter swells come, a wall of water completely fills the horizon and moves as a single entity to crash on shore at the same time. When the swells reach 20 to 30 feet, which is what I pictured, the sound of this single wave hitting the shore is thunderous, and the sand shakes underneath your body.

In my imagination, I crested the hill slowly working my way through the warm sand, and stood and looked at the ocean before me. The cry of sea birds filled the salt air, wrapped in the smell of tropical blossoms. Gripping the sand between my toes, I watched the giant swells come ashore and began to try and picture God sitting next to me.

What would God look like?

I watched as a wave began to crest, its spindrift lifting into the air as it started to come ashore. Maybe I would picture Him as the powerful wave. But God was not the wave. The wave was created by Him, but it was not Him.

Not to be deterred, I tried to picture Jesus sitting in the sand next to me.

But I knew I did not want to picture a Jesus of European descent, all whitewashed and blue eyed and perfectly dressed with a halo on His head. He would have looked more like a Syrian refugee, and because my mind had been saturated with a North American picture of Him, it felt like betrayal to conjure up anything from my Eurocentric experience. So I remained in the sand with an empty place next to me, waiting to hear of my belovedness in God’s eyes.

I sat as the waves continued to pound and felt the weight of the empty place next to me in the sand. My last vestige of hope was The Holy Spirit.

What would the Holy Spirit look like?

I tried to conjure a vision of the Spirit’s presence to fill the empty space next to me. I thought of the saints who had been part of my journey and asked each to come sit next to me, but the memory of their love and care did not conjure their presence. After many failed attempts, I took a few more deep breaths to settle and open my heart. It was then that I heard a gentle voice speak into my heart.

Who do you need Me to be?

“I don’t’ know,” I answered as I continued to rotate images unsuccessfully into the empty space beside me in almost a desperate way.

Who do you need Me to be?

I don’t know.

All of a sudden I felt a Spirit presence come and sit next to me in the sand. For a few moments, I sat holding my breath soaking in the presence next to me, not wanting to lose this moment. Finally, I turned to see its face:

It was my 95 year old mom who had died several years earlier.

I felt her put her arm around my shoulders softly as she stared at the sea. We sat together that way in silence as wave after wave crashed on the shore. And then, without warning, she said quietly,

You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.

Then I felt the Spirit’s presence gently leave us, and she just became my mom sitting beside me in the sand. How is it there? I asked. She turned her face to me, and her blue eyes were clear and filled with a light of joy.

It is so beautiful….It is so beautiful.

I wept.

We sat together wordless after that, as the shuttering thunder of waves meeting sand filled the air. I looked at her again, and I told her over and over again, “I miss you so much… I miss you so much…” She sat with a quiet radiant joy. The waves filled the horizon and came ashore. And I continued to weep.

But there was joy in that sorrow.

I had been given the gift of knowing she walked in beauty now, a place where I would one day hold her again and kiss her face. A place where every tear would be wiped away. She had journeyed to the Creator’s heart, and now rested on His eternal, distant shore.

But God had sent her to me, in that place of His undeniable presence, to speak to me of what I had not ever fully grasped in the deep reaches of my heart.

Until now.

I was His beloved.

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Sep 26, 2023

I wanted to comment on this last week, but my iPad inexplicably would not allow it. The week before you published this, one of my dearest friends, with whom another friend and I had coffee every single Monday morning, died suddenly. We were to meet at Third Place Books for an author event, and she didn't show up. When I called her cell phone afterward, her daughter answered and told me our friend had died very suddenly that afternoon, probably of a massive heart attack. We have been dealing with the grief of her passing since then. This post brought me great comfort when I read it last week, so thank you, Friend.

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