When the sea comes calling...

I've just spent an unexpectedly warm and sunny weekend in a relatively quiet, small seaside town. This final weekend before schools start again meant the beaches, stretching for miles, were barely half-full, so there was plenty of space for games and kite-flying, and for children and adults to splash and run around in the waves. And plenty of evidence, too, of traditional beach pastimes: a long trench being dug for the gradually advancing tide, and, along the shore, where the surface was smooth and damply soft, names and hearts and other signs etched into the sand. Transient, temporary greetings and declarations of love, to be smoothed and washed away within a few hours by the subtly yet inexorably encroaching tide.

I watched a carefully constructed, moated sandcastle begin its slow surrender to the waves, and as I did, I recalled a poem by Carol Bialock RSCJ. I'd first heard it in 1994, at the first vows of a young sister for whom it had been significant. It speaks of God's journey into our lives, not with polite, restrained reticence, but with an insistent power which offers love; and it speaks of yielding and acquiescence, and of learning a new way of being. When God - or the sea - comes calling, you give your house for a coral castle, and learn to breathe underwater...

And today, as I watched the sandcastle softly, gracefully crumble into the sea, and hearts and names fade and disappear, I also noticed something else. Each receding wave left something behind. Dozens of pebbles of all shapes and hues, the odd feather or piece of glass where previously there had been only sand; not quite a coral castle, true, but the sea's offering, nonetheless. When the sea comes calling it takes away, yes; but the sea - palely mirroring God - also gives: not like for like, measured out, but more, and abundantly, from the vastness and variety of its bounty.

When God comes calling, may we have the grace of acquiescence, and gladly give our precious, beautifully-built sandcastles for the hundredfold contained within a coral one...

By Carol Bialock ~
I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you,
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbours.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences,
respectful, keeping our distance
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always the fence of sand our barrier,
always the sand between.
And then one day
(and I still don't know how it happened)
The sea came.
Without warning.
Without welcome even.
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight, and I thought of drowning, and I thought of death.
But while I thought, the sea crept higher till it reached my door.
And I knew that there was neither flight nor death nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling you stop being good neighbours,
Well acquainted, friendly from a distance neighbours.
And you give your house for a coral castle
And you learn to breathe under water.


  1. thank you SO much! what a stunning reflection and the poem is.... just wow.

  2. Thank you for sharing this reflection and the poem! just wow!!!!

  3. Yes, the poem is indeed wow! It became better known thanks to Sheila Cassidy, who encountered it while she was in Chile (where she was imprisoned and tortured) In her book, Sharing the Darkness, she writes:

    Now the curious thing is that all the time I was in Chile I understood the sea in this poem as an image of the presence of God - the way he takes over our lives. When I showed it to a monk friend, however, he saw the slow advance of the sea as the gradual encroachment of the agony of the world upon one's consciousness. It is only now, ten years on, that I begin to understand what he meant when he said that the great mystery is that the two are really the same.

  4. The poem above comes from an unpublished collection of poems from Carol Bialock. Fernwood Press is bringing out the new book on Carol's 90th birthday this next June. Email me ericmuhr at gmail dot com for a pdf of the manuscript. I'd love to have you read it and write about it / share it with others if you like what you find there. Her poems are powerful!


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