Tuesday, September 21, 2004



Sunlight, ah, sunlight. I can see what I'm doing.

Autumn low tides come early. The advantage of this for the one-day-beach sand sculptor is plenty of daylight for carving. If he can get out of bed and get moving early enough.

Other people are up. A languid offshore breeze brings the scent of frying bacon to make sure the people exercising know what they're missing. Fishermen use flashlights to see what they're doing.

I just use my feet. I know the shape of the beach. What's harder to determine is the location of yesterday's high tide, but I take a guess and go to work.

It's all very familiar. Dig up some sand to make a raised sokkel for the sculpture to sit on. Haul up a cartload of water to help pack the base. Add an inch or so for tidal uncertainty. Set the form on top of the sokkel and then go get a cartload of sand. Make that four cartloads, because the tide has turned and is filling my borrow pit; if I go with usual practice and haul sand when needed, I'll be closed out. So I get it all and dump it into a big heap on the tarp I brought for this purpose.

Then I settle into the routine of making a pile of sand. My mind wanders, as usual; the repetitive cycle of filter and tamp doesn't take much management. I watch flights of pelicans cruise north, wingtips just an inch from the water whose movement provides the energy these canny birds use for flight.

Something is bothering me. Usually this process goes peacefully, a time for gathering my wits for the intense work of designing a sculpture in real time. This time is different. I'm becoming increasingly agitated. I've learned to recognize the signs. God wants my attention. Out here on the beach there can be only one subject. I thought we had that settled!

I know where life comes from, however, so I start listening. The old testament is full of examples of what happens when people don't listen when God comes calling.

Idolatry. God brought Israel out of Egypt in a succession of miracles. The people experienced these but as soon as things got a little sticky they turned away and made their own gods. Down through the years in a long slide, one king after another led the nation farther away from their roots.

Sand sculpture saved my life. It was a delicate bridge of worthwhile creativity over a valley of glass shards, something to live for in a world largely devoid of reasons to go on.

This sculpture, September 18, 2004, is a little different from its immediate predecessors. Other post-Mosaic sculptures have been unplanned because I had other things on my mind. Such as a real Savior. I expected sand sculpture to fall by the wayside, given up in order to pursue important things. That didn't happen, and many Mosaic people asked me why I expected to lose something that was so obviously a gift from God. Still, there were many other things to think about in learning how to live this new way, and sand sculpture just got what was left over.

In the old days I'd start planning a sculpture immediately after making one. For two weeks I'd refine the mental model and make modifications. Many more ideas can be conceived than made. I'd make the sculpture, and the cycle would start again. It was a dandy way to cross the years in splendid isolation.

This sculpture is a partial return to the old way. I set a date for this one and started thinking about what to make. The central idea was something I've experimented with a few times, a narrow slot in the sculpture's side, with interesting turns and discontinuities. In spare time I work on this model, taking advantage of a new confidence that living with Jesus doesn't require my concentration on every second. I tend to micromanage, driving myself through life as a farmer drives his ox on its routine boustrophedon path.

I look at the form on its base, and all the equipment around it. None of it is gold-plated but my state approaches one of worship. I edge away from this thought, and try to keep it at a distance, but it won't go away. God is doing what I asked, all those months ago: whatever it takes to get my attention.

I don't want to lose this. Eventually he settles me down to the point where I can actually understand what he's saying. He hates routine. Get off that boustrophedon predictable path.

Early morning. Dark. Time to get up, if I want to make it to the beach. Get moving. The autopilot takes over.

Breakfast. Scrounge portable food from wherever it can found and load it into the pack. Fill a couple of water bottles and put them in there too. Get the camera, wrap it up and put it in. Add the new bottle of sunscreen, and check for the windbreaker. Run through the mental list. Oh, yes, the hat. It goes in, I run the list again and this time it checks out.

Out the door. Open the garage, pull the old bicycle out, and then the trailer. It's already loaded, nothing having changed since the last sculpture. The morning is dark and cool. Somehow this surprises me. Close the garage, make a quick check to make sure the critical items are aboard. They are.

Depart. Down the street in a gentle roll, Saturday quiet. Ride through Venice, streetlight after orange streetlight. There are some early joggers, and the usual people standing around watching each other.

Lock the bike to a post. Drag the trailer across the dry sand that sucks at its wheels.. Park it out of reach of the coming high tide. Waves foam white in the darkness. Set up the table, unload the trailer and go to work. I've made 250 sculptures here and know the place and my operations well. Routine.

The ox sets out to plow his familiar field, and all of a sudden the place looks new. Strange. Understanding the change takes time.

God's timing is interesting. I avoid conflict if at all possible. If he'd brought this up last night I would have aborted the mission. If he'd mentioned it while I was on my way I'd have aborted, turned around and gone home. No, he waited until I was well started so that there is nothing to do but thrash it out.

I don't really want to. Something about upsetting the God of the Universe makes me very nervous.

Yet he is very patient. The Israelites kept messing things up but God kept looking for the good men and remembering his promises. Hundreds of years later he tried to get Israel's attention by allowing the Babylonian king to take them all away. It worked for a time, but only a time.

It's an expression of freedom. Beating an ox along predictable rounds isn't love. It's my choice: do a sand sculpture, or not.

With the Holy Spirit helping to keep me from panicking, there is time to figure out the truth. As is typical of matters of God, it's more complex than it would seem from the surface.

I allowed the press of time-sensitive routine to keep me from even a minimal recognition of God's presence. Usually I wake up and greet him. That's a contributing factor here. More important is that I didn't invite him to participate in this sculpture.

No, the problem is that this whole process has slipped into the realm of plowing the field. My attitude has become very similar to what it was years ago: concentrating on the sculpture to the exclusion of all else. Sand sculpture as survival, not as worship of the Most High who gave me the ability and desire to make sculpture.

I wonder how other creative people handle this. Creativity requires concentration. Jamie the dancer has to practice and keep track of where he is on the stage and where he is in time, and relate this to the other dancers. Erwin has to keep his mind on what he's saying, relating each part of the message to the others. How do they keep God in this intense process?

Maybe the answer is easier than I'd been thinking. Maybe I should just quit excluding Him.

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