“When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.”
Strange words to come into my head as I knelt in the second-floor chapel on a chilly, bright September morning. Last time I was down beside the sea was months ago, when we had time to spare and not so much to do. Now, we’re back home where the leaves are dying, the sun is at a slant, and the heavy grasses are being mowed to stubble one last time before the snows start in earnest. We are, in short, as far from down beside the sea, and vacation, and recreation as we ever get. And yet there I was, getting nothing done, just as I was meant to do.
Here are the next lines of the poem:
“My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up
Till it could come no more.” (“At the Sea-Side” by Robert Louis Stevenson)
My life is good, and getting better. And so I was taken aback when a priest told me — earnestly, with great concern — that I should spend some time in non-task oriented prayer.
He saw that I am very busy. I work, I have ten children. I have a lot of irons in the fire, and he didn’t want to give me one more thing to do. And yet — or because of this — he wanted me to remember that who I am is not what I accomplish, and what I am worth is not what I can produce. And so I went to the chapel, because this morning I had ten or fifteen minutes to spare in between dropping off the kids and meeting the washing machine repairman and baking four dozen brownies for the cross country meet. My plate, as they say, is full, but what about my cup?
When you go to adoration, you can say your rosary, you can read scripture, you can confess or plead to God or thank Him. Or, you can just sit there and let yourself be filled up, because your heart is a cup. This is pure gift, the chance to just sit there and let yourself be filled.
You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to hear anything. You don’t have to figure anything out, any more than a child can crouch at the edge of the ocean and comprehend everything that it is and can be in that profound immensity. What you are is a cup, and you are here to be filled.
So I feel secure in saying that, whoever you are and however full your plate is, no matter how much you accomplish or how badly you’re failing to produce what you should, you would do well to go to adoration. Go to a chapel if you can manage it, or even just adore Him within your heart, putting yourself in the presence of God without any specific goal. Sit yourself down at the side of the sea and show your heart to God, and that’s all.
It’s a task like no other, this task of merely being present at the edge of a fathomless immensity of love. But that is what you were made for: You are a cup, and you are here to be filled.