Contemplation and the Ocean of Presence

Contemplation and the Ocean of Presence May 13, 2015

Here’s a little video I filmed last month at the Gulf Coast. It’s only about 45 seconds long and consists of the sunset and the surf. I offer it to you as a little moment of serenity. Please enjoy.

I know some people might find a little video like this boring. Compared to Hollywood culture or Madison Avenue culture, something as simple as the ocean or the gulf crashing gently on the shore might very well seem, well, singularly unexciting.

And so it is.

I’m reminded of the title of a book by one of my favorite living authors, Fr. Michael Casey. It’s called An Unexciting Life: Reflections on Benedictine Spirituality. The spirituality of the cloister (whether Benedictine, Cistercian, Carthusian, or whatever) is indeed unexciting, because it stresses silence, contemplation, simple labor, peace, stability, and a gradual formation or conversion into love.

When you think about it, contemplative spirituality is actually rather subversive. It’s subversive of our hyper-pumped, flash-and-sizzle culture where the latest, the greatest, the loudest and the most explosive gets all the attention.

But isn’t that the joy of it?

I think so. I’m drawn to the gentle rhythms of the surf for the same reason that I’m drawn to the unhurried rhythms of monastic life. The surf may not be “silent” but it encourages me to find, and rest in, the silent place within me. The same holds true for time spent praying or on retreat in a monastery.

I think it’s easy to love the surf, with its soothing sound and endless rhythm, because it connects us, on the shore, with the vast openness of the ocean (or, in this case, the gulf). The water seems to have no limit, to go on forever. And yet here it is, crashing on the shore and available for us to stick our toes in or even to take a swim.

Isn’t that the way contemplation works, only with silent prayer the “ocean” is the presence of God, and the “surf” is the many subtle ways we discover or encounter God’s presence in our lives?

When you go to the beach, you don’t have to make the surf happen. You just go there and enjoy it. It’s already there, and it is always available. So it is with the ocean of God’s presence. We are always on the shore of the ocean of God’s mercy. We stand and listen to the surf of divine silence. We are invited into the water, whether to stick a toe in timidly or to joyfully dive in, all the way.

We stand on the shore where the water may seem shallow. But the ocean is vast, and very, very deep. God will not force us to dive in. But we are always invited to do so, each and every day.

If you haven’t already done so, take some time today to be silent and to pay attention to where the ocean of Divine Presence washes up on the shore of your very own life. Listen carefully. Relax. It’s always there for you. All there is to do is respond.


What do you do to connect, or reconnect, with the ocean of God’s love in your life, each and every day? Please share your thoughts, in the comments section of this blog or on social media. Thanks!


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  • You captured perfectly the peace, serenity, and joy that Denise and I feel when we get to the coast!

  • Carol Garman

    Dear Carl,

    Your words “the ocean of divine presence washes” truly strikes a chord with me. Being in the presence of the sun slipping into the ocean in the evening is a holy experience joining souls of the past and present as they, too, stood in awe in the sand. Thank you for this moment today.

  • Steve Gough

    I could not agree more, in this age where attention spans, conditioned by Hollywood, MTV and Facebook timeline scrolling, are getting shorter and shorter, it is not just important but I suspect soul-saving to attend to those slow rhythms of life, within and without. I recently spent a week on Wales’ Caldey Island where as you may know there is a 1400 year old Cistercian monastery. The slow still silence of the land and sea was like a enormous, comforting blanket which came down whether you liked it or not – when I was not listening to the daily chanted Nones or Sextes, I was drinking up the rhythm of the wild Irish sea. I took a video camera & tripod and have recorded hours of these natural tides. I hope to post a video on Youtube combining The Cistercian Hours with the equally haunting liturgy of the Welsh waves…. watch this space (PS I am a new follower of your blog, a Welshman Living in London, and love your words….

    • Carl McColman

      Steve, thank you for following and for this lovely comment. Please let me know when your video is ready (you can post a link to it here). It sounds like something the readers of this blog and I will love.

  • Steve Gough

    I will certainly let you know about the video, Carl. Thank you for your beautiful work on this blog. A ray of light across the deep still waters.

  • témoigner

    Great post however , I was wondering if you could write
    a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if
    you could elaborate a little bit further. Many
    thanks!

    • Carl McColman

      Sure. I encourage you to sign up for my email list so you can be informed when I post new material on contemplation and related topics.