“The waves run up the shore”

The novel No Great Mischief, which is set in Canada, tells a story through the relationship of two brothers, Alex and Calum, and in part their shared childhood memories in Cape Breton Island. The author, Alistair MacLeod, tackles the conflict between the rise of individualism and family in the post modern world. There are so many great lines in the novel. Consider the following as he describes what can be heard in the stillness of the night, from their small home so close to the ocean, “At night one can hear the sound of the ocean as if it nudges the land, almost as if it is pushing the land further back. The sound is not a storm but rather one of patient persistence.” Over these past 12 months we each have needed patient persistence in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic. MacLeod’s words remind me of the wonderful poem about prayer written by R.S. Thomas. Ponder the poem and offer your own prayer of patient, hopeful, persistence.

The waves run up the shore
and fall back. I run
up the approaches of God
and fall back. The breakers return
reaching a little further,
gnawing away at the main land.
They have done this thousands
of years, exposing little by little
the rock under the soil’s face.
I must imitate them only
in my return to the assault,
not in their violence. Dashing
my prayers at him will achieve
little other than the exposure
of the rock under his surface.
My returns must be made
on my knees. Let despair be known
as my ebb-tide; but let prayer
have its springs, too, brimming,
disarming him; discovering somewhere
among his fissures deposits of mercy
where trust may take root and grow. R.S. Thomas

In the poet’s description of the waves’ persistence, little by little, exposing the rock, calls to mind one of the great hymns of the church, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.

Time, and time again
I come to you, O Lord,
with the same prayer.
Forgive my mistakes,
heal the wounds I have caused,
restore the trust I have broken.
Guide me to the fissures where
deposits of mercy can be found
and where trust may take root and grow.

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