Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Hearing Test

The sun casts long fingers of gold through the gaps between buildings east of the beach. You're there, invisible, as the shadows get slowly shorter.

You watch a man labor mightily to drag a heavy trailer loaded with unfamiliar items through the dry sand. When he reaches a spot that seems no more significant to you than any other spot, he stops and then unloads the trailer. A little blue table, many buckets, a big grey cylinder, and other things. You can tell he has done this before; all his movements are economical, practiced.

A couple of hours later you watch as he splits the grey cylinder, leaving a solid column of sand standing proud of the wide beach. Up to this point the activity has been largely incomprehensible. You've never seen anything like it. But then he picks up a black tub, carries it to the column of sand, and puts it down. He takes an object--you suddenly recognize it as a knife-like tool--and starts cutting the sand away.

Sand sculpture. No different from what any kid does on the beach except in scale.

You watch, as the shadows swing around, northwest, straight north and then moving around to the east. You see a number of people stop where the man is working. They may ask a question or just stand there. Whatever happens, nothing deflects the man from his carving. None of them stays long except for one man in a blue jacket, who watches intently and occasionally gives the sand carver a cookie.

In the middle of the afternoon the sculpture is well along; the man's cuts are finer and he's spending more time working on the inside. Another passerby approaches, one more random person on the beach.

You see this man stand at a distance from the sculptor, apparently watching, and then he slowly approaches. He asks the sculptor a question, and the sculptor looks up from his carving. One more interaction in a day full of them. You start to look away; there are pelicans fishing out in the bay, and you like how they dive. But something draws your eyes back to the scene around the sculpture. The two men are talking to each other, the sculptor with his hands in his lap. This is the first time you've seen his hands idle.

The second man takes out a video camera. Their dialog continues for several minutes, during which the sculptor stands up, his sculpture seemingly forgotten. He hasn't done this with anyone else while you've been watching.

I have met a number of evangelicals on the beach. When you do sand sculpture, you're a fixed target. I eventually learned that they are also an easy target. Push a few buttons and they leave. Challenge their worldview and they'll just dismiss me as completely unrepentant. Maybe they'll pray for me. In any case, they walk away, unaffected.

So this guy shows up and ask a question. I give him an answer, and then he asks another question. Here we have another singularity: his new question tells me that he actually listened to the first, considered it, and then decided he wanted to know more. I knew he was evangelical. I pushed the button: "I don't believe in God." He didn't walk away, but rather listened, considered, and the dialog continued.

He told me about a church called Mosaic. In Emailed messages after he went home he'd ask me if I'd been to a Mosaic meeting yet. Eventually I said yes.

A simple act, listening. He listened to God's suggestion of who to talk to on the beach. Then he showed me respect by listening to my answers. I listened to him, and respected him for hearing me and ended up going to Mosaic, where several people helped me relearn how to hear God myself.

The sun sets over the rocks beyond the beach. The sculpture stands, its shadow fading. The two men are long gone, but have been changed forever.

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