Recently I went online to rent a beach house for a week in August. The place I prefer to go is one I’ve visited many times over a span of more than twenty years. What struck me as I checked realtor websites for rental options this year were the selling points listed for the various properties. Location, of course, is always paramount, beach-front still at a premium.
After location, though, the critical amenities – beyond AC and a dishwasher – appear to be the number of TV’s in the house (cable-connected, of course), and the availability of high-speed internet. It’s not unusual for a moderately-sized beach house to feature three or even four cable-connected TV’s (always at least one large flat-screen among them), implying that on a rainy day at the beach, members of the family may all go their separate ways to stare at different onscreen offerings.
I well recall the days when telephone service at the beach was erratic, and the single television pulled in a few stations from a primitive antenna atop the house. Sometimes it was difficult to determine whether the local TV news was to be taken seriously, or as a joke. But there was always the well-stocked bookshelf somewhere in the house, the assumption being that TV was not the default necessity on a rainy day. Sometimes there were real treasures on that shelf, like the collection of short stories by John Cheever I discovered one summer, a feast of ideas for sermon preparation.
The evolution of beach house amenities can serve as a cultural dye marker. We are reluctant, it appears, to get away. The internet and multiple CCTV’s (beach house shorthand) keep us connected to the normal routines of our lives, and within the gravitational field of our mundane responsibilities: I cannot go and sit among the dunes because I’ve got a dozen e-mails to answer. I dare not walk along the beach at sunset, because I need to watch the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer to maintain credibility with my co-workers. I must stay abreast of everything during vacation to demonstrate commitment to my professional responsibilities: “Yes, while away, I saw that editorial in The New York Times!”
Is this frenetic need to be connected to the mundane symptomatic of more than the fragility of our professional egos? Are we fearful of solitude? Of silence? Of having to attend to the rhythms of nature? Of the ways God may intrude when we’re severed from our technology? Do we have to be out of cell range to be within range of the Holy Spirit?
In the three synoptic Gospels Jesus goes into the wilderness immediately after his baptism. In Mark we’re told, “. . . the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” the force of the language unmistakable. The writers clearly understood this pilgrimage as imperative to Jesus’ preparation for his ministry. He had to get away to learn who he really was.
There may be a sand dune with your name on it. Or, put a bit differently, there may be a sand dune where you’ll recall the name you received in your baptism, and hear the voice of the One who called you through the gift of the water.
The Rev. Ed Moore
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity