One of my favorite authors, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wrote a simple little book in 1955 about her annual solitary visit to the sea and used shells to explore the stages of a woman’s life and the need to find balance. If you have never read Gift from the Sea, look for a copy at your library. It is worth re-reading. I found many gifts to count as I looked at one shell: the channeled whelk.
“. . . it is simple; it is bare, it is beautiful. . . . its architecture is perfect, down to the finest detail. It’s shape, swelling like a pear in the center, winds in a gentle spiral to the pointed apex. Its color is whitened by a wash of salt from the sea. Each whorl, each faint knob, each criss-cross vein in its egg-shell texture, is as clearly defined as on the day of creation. My eye follows with delight the outer circumference of that diminutive winding staircase up which this tenant used to travel.”
from Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
She uses the shell to remind her of how a simplified life, living in grace ( inner spiritual harmony) begins with a simplified outer life. Looking at the outside of this shell can remind you that simplification of outward life can be a road to grace.
As simple as this shell is, I marvel at God’s design for this one small home for a tiny snail-like creature. Think of all the creatures of the sea created by God which we are still discovering and then be amazed at your own marvelous self – a complex body composed of tiny bits of DNA unique only to you. And He made us in His own image!
Consider the shell’s “staircase” as a staircase of your life. Your life may be swamped with many responsibilities and complications, and simplification seems a far off dream. If you have young children, life is complicated just to make a trip to the grocery store. If you have older children, your life is full of schedules, events, sports, and constantly “on the go”. You may think the only time you can possibly have some solitude will be in retirement years. But Lindbergh says, “Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week and each day (p. 48).”
Perhaps the shell can symbolize a goal for you – a tangible reminder that you need to find a few minutes every day just for you and God to commune, even if all you do is hold the shell, close your eyes, and ask God to pull you closer to Him.
Just as the sea ebbs and flows with the tide, we do the same in our relationship with God. It takes work to stay with Him. As I look through old journals I find gaps of time when I did not find those moments with God outside of a church setting. Usually it was a matter of losing the habit; just like regular exercise requires a determination to regularly be active. If you have your gym bag packed and ready, you are more likely to stick to a habit of going to the gym for exercise. The same is true for our solitude and time with God. Have your tools ready in a place that can make your time accessible –a basket near the back door so you can take it outside early in the morning before the house is awake or books on your desk where you will see them. Begin simply with the shell and your Bible and your own outer shell.
The inner work to bring you peace and joy comes from the day to day time your spend working on it. No matter how often you begin and stop or begin again and “fail” to establish the habit of meditation with God, He is ever faithful and will ALWAYS, ALWAYS be there waiting for us to come to Him. This I know is true from my personal journey.“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8 “I have loved you with everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3