The Hidden Beach
My take on God, Universal Truth and world religions is something like this. God is like a secluded, beautiful wide expanse of beach with an interesting mix of different features. It has been there for millions of years, undiscovered. Then one day by chance (or Providence) five people from a village where no one ever saw a beach before, find it.
The five people are from different parts of the village and unbeknownst to each other, they took separate routes to get to the beach. One person arrived at the beach in the morning and his vision and perspective of it were shaped thusly. Eager to share what he saw, he retraces his steps and goes off immediately to the nearest village and tells everyone he meets about the route he took to the hidden beach and how it looked to him.
While he was doing this, another person arrived at a part of the beach where cliffs plunged into clear water and fish were jumping and it was this that stuck with him more than anything else. He goes off to another part of the village and tells his version of his beach discovery.
The third, discovered the softest, sandiest part of the beach. When he arrives at the village it is all he could talk about.
The fourth saw the beach at sunset.
The fifth arrived at the beach at night and saw little detail but could hear the waves, smell the salty tangy water and so that shaped his view.
The five beach founders convince others of their version of the beach. Each of their stories is compelling and beautiful in their own way. Each story inspires different people to believe in it depending on that person’s state of mind and personal experiences. Some find more comfort and insight in the Morning Beach story. Others are irresistibly drawn to the Water and Fish story. People are moved to paint pictures of the beach and share the story with others even if they never saw the beach for themselves. Few actually go and seek the beach to see if it is true. Most just depend on the second hand accounts or pictures drawn of the version of the beach they prefer. The original discoverers of the beach totally close themselves off from seeing the beach in any other way than the way they saw it. They pass along this tunnel vision to their followers as well.
Soon imagining the beach is not enough for the more ambitious villagers. More and more people want to go on a quest to find the beach of their chosen belief. The five founders decide to help and draw up five different maps to the part of the beach they discovered and convince many villagers not only of their individual versions of the beach but that the only way to get there is from THEIR map. The followers take their word for it. Most refuse to explore other maps and would not listen to the other descriptions of the beach from the other individuals. In time the original five founders of the beach die, but their stories and maps not only remain and they only grow in popularity.
When different believers in different beach routes and descriptions meet, they argue fiercely over whose version of the beach and map is more accurate. Those who believe in the Night Beach version refuse to believe those who talk about the Morning Beach and all the things that can be seen in the sunlight. In fact, the "Night Beach believers" call the sights described by the "Morning Beach believers" demonic and false. Those who took the coast trail map refuse to believe that you can get to the beach using the river trail or mountain trail. Soon a whole money making industry is built up along the promotion and defense of the five different maps and beach descriptions. Map de-coders, tour guides, beach visors (for the Morning Beach believers) and torch lights (for the Night believers) and underwater lenses (for the Fish & Water believers) and timers to ensure you viewed the beach at the designated time according to your belief, were all the rage. It became mandatory to use a tour guide to get there, least you stray and horror of horrors stumble into a contradictory pathway to the beach. These items became somewhat of premiums so actually the more money you had, the more “true a beach believer” you could prove yourself to be.
When different believers in different beach routes and descriptions meet, they argue fiercely over whose version of the beach and map is more accurate. Those who believe in the Night Beach version refuse to believe those who talk about the Morning Beach and all the things that can be seen in the sunlight. In fact, the "Night Beach believers" call the sights described by the "Morning Beach believers" demonic and false.
The villagers even began using symbols to distinguish between those who had different beach beliefs. Those with the same belief began wanting to live in their own separate parts of the village. There were major conflicts and squabbles over land and fair movement of people. Some felt that because they had the Sandy Beach belief, they had the right to own all the sand on the village. The Sunset Beach believers refused to tolerate any other kind of beach believer moving about at sunset which became their holy time, they also claimed the colour orange for themselves. Some Night Beach believers were so extremist they plucked out their eyes in order to experience all things in darkness just like their the father of their beach belief who discovered the beach at night.
One day, a young couple began to ponder about the original five discoverers of the beach. Perhaps because this young couple were always a little more unconventional and considered strange by the other villagers, they never really fit into any one beach belief community. This is probably why they dared to read all five maps and listen to all five versions of the how the beach looked. Soon they realised no one told the first five founders how to find the beach. The first founders of the beach had beaten their own path to the beach and whether by accident or Providence, found a way to it. Naturally, that made the couple ask, “If they could do it without maps, tour guides and all the accoutrements, why can’t we? What is stopping us from being beach founders?”
So one day, they bravely decide that rather than choose a map and story version and follow blindly like most, they would decide to discover the beach themselves just like the original five did. Now this was unheard of! People discouraged them strongly and pushed their beach belief on them harder than ever.
“Why wander around in the dangerous wild, when I have the map drawn out by one of the five original founders of the beach right here?” some said.
“Because your map does not tell the whole story.” The couple replied.
“Why not make life so much easier on yourself and use a tour guide?” others suggested.
‘Because the tour guide is beholden only to one map and one way of viewing the beach and will limit our experience to only what he wants us to see.” The couple replied.
“Look at the people who have my beach belief, see how contented and happy they are. You can have that too right now! You don’t have to search any more.” villagers pressed.
“But we tried your beach belief and we know it does not make us happy and contented. Obviously what works for you does not work for us.” The couple explained.
Still, these villagers had a point! It was scary and dangerous to beat a new path to the beach when a pre-existing formula existed. But for the couple, each of the different five maps and routes and descriptions had gaps in them or created questions about the beach and its surrounding topography, without sufficient answers.
Resolved they set out one early morning. It was fine for a while and then the territory started to get unfamiliar and scary. They got lost many times. They stepped in ants nests, fell into quicksand, got soaked in the rain and suffered heat stroke. But they survived it and in the process learned some valuable survival skills others did not have. Sometimes they even walked along paths already beaten by the first five founders and it helped tremendously. Unbeknownst to the original five founders, what they thought were distinctly separate paths often criss-crossed each other at certain points. The couple soon realised their brave pioneering, helped them see valuable connections in the paths all five founders had missed. In fact, when different legs of different paths were combined a certain way, it created a new more efficient, easier route. In time, from that perspective, they could see all five paths and each had its positive and negative sides, including their new path. Some paths were meandering but had lots of shade; some were risky but had a more scenic view. Their new path was actually a combination of pluses and minuses. Most importantly however was the couple’s discovery that ALL PATHS LED TO THE SAME BEACH. They deduced correctly that depending on which path you chose, you ended up at the beach at a different hour of the day or saw a different angle of it, hence, the different descriptions.
When they got to the beach, they were overwhelmed with joy! The feeling of gratitude and accomplishment was indescribable. They realised there was no way to take it all in just a few moments and they decided to stay much longer and explore the beach thoroughly. The beach was truly wide and deep and encompassed terrain from swampy lagoon to powder white sand to coconut groves to rocky cliffs with caves. The water was equally varied, there were calm shallows, coral reefs, ten foot breakers; deep pools, rivers that met the sea and created brackish lagoons. If the couple were in a rush to claim what they saw, start a new belief system and rush back to the village to get a following all their own they would have only seen just the river and lagoon. They realised that just finding the beach for the moment was its own reward. They did not need anyone to pat them on the back for doing it. They viewed the beach in the morning. They stayed longer to notice the water and fish, they felt the lovely sand, they watched the sun go down on the water and they watched the water get dark and the smells of the ocean and sound of the waves heighten. So the five founders were telling the truth about what they experienced and all five versions were equally true even though they seemed to contradict one another. They even stayed for the sunrise the next day, something NONE of the other five did before.
They became so moved by that beach that returning to the village seemed pointless and so they set up a home right there. Sometimes they would think about the other people back at the village squabbling about the beach and it all seemed so infantile now. Sometimes they would get a visitor, a pilgrim from the Morning, Water&Fish, Sand, Sunset or Night Beach beliefs. These visitors would come on pilgrimage and stay only for a certain period of time and view only a certain part of the beach that would support their limited view. The “Morning Beach” believers only came between 6 to 10 am and left promptly afterwards, the ‘Water and Fish” beach believers would do nothing else but look at the water from the cliffs and admire the fish, then leave. They had no idea they could enjoy the beach in so many more ways and were too afraid to try, even when they saw the couple playing in the waves, building sandcastles, climbing the coconut trees, exploring the crab holes and digging for clams. They just shook their heads and thought the pair were mad. Some even got angry and thought the two were sacrilegious. But most were so tunnel sighted they did not even notice any other feature of the beach, let alone see or hear the calls of the couple to come and explore with them.
Most importantly however was the couple’s discovery that ALL PATHS LED TO THE SAME BEACH. They deduced correctly that depending on which path you chose, you ended up at the beach at a different hour of the day or saw a different angle of it, hence, the different descriptions.
The couple often wondered if they should go back and tell others of their own beach experience and try to get others to walk their path too. Then they would remember that the very reason they ended up in such a rewarding place was because they themselves refused to listen to proselytizing and independently sought their own way. They had to be willing to trust others to do the same. One full moon, they saw a sight no one could imagine! The water lit up with silver highlights and it was moving beyond words. Then a few months later, they got another surprise, giant sea turtles came ashore to lay their eggs. They wondered why the first five did not stay a little longer to witness all these different beautiful things. They hoped that their spirits in the afterlife could now see all the things they missed out on in this life. They wondered if they told people in the village of the sights they saw, if anyone would ever believe them. Initially, there was an eagerness even a desperation to share this experience and drag others to see it themselves, but soon they realised that convincing others of their truth was not necessary to validate that truth. That would be making the entire experience more about THEM than the experience itself. That was something the first five founders missed entirely. So they just stayed where they were, basking in the enjoyment of the beach.
Years passed and it often got lonely, just the two of them with occasional, limited visits from pilgrims from one of the five sects. But one day a new visitor arrived early in the morning.
“Are you a Morning Beach person?” they asked him.
“No. I was actually once a Night Beach believer who never actually ever visited the beach before. I just looked at the pictures of it. One day I realised that the Night description did not answer all the questions I had about the beach. So even though I was not supposed to, I started reading about the other versions of the beach and I decided to go and search for the beach myself without following any one particular map. I discovered this wonderful route through a forest and over a natural stone bridge-
“Wow there is yet another way too!” the couple exclaimed. “We came here over the mountain and through the swamps but we would love to learn a little about your path too. It may explain a few things that puzzled us when we got lost. So how long are you here for?” they asked excitedly.
“As long as it takes me to fully understand this beach, now that I have seen it with my own eyes during the morning, I realise how little I know.” he admitted.
“Well we have been here for over thirty years and believe it or not, we still don’t know everything yet. Every time we think we have this beach figured out, something different happens or we see a new aspect of it. So it will be nice to have someone here for the long haul with us. Want to go for a swim?”
“You can swim in it??” he reacted with astonishment.
“And then some.” They said with pure glee.
I know there are some people who desperately cling to their maps and fully formed, limited descriptions of the “beach” that is God and Truth. I have nothing against them, not everyone can beat a new path on their own. Everyone has a purpose in this life, a path to walk and beliefs to define their lives. Just because a person prefers a pre-existing path and indoctrinated belief does not invalidate that their life’s purpose. There is diversity even within the pre-existing structures and room to grow within them, for those who take the time to do so. There is room for everyone or “many mansions” if you prefer. For the less brave, motivated or self-disciplined, pre-existing beliefs and maps can provide a certain comfort, security and structure. Perhaps the drug addict or philanderer needs the pre-set rules to prevent anti-social behaviour and guide their decisions. They may be unable to manage too much freedom.
However, the problem starts when those who have never searched, never explored other paths, never beaten a path of their own begin to expound on the infallibility of their map and beach description. The problems escalate when people who hold to one path to the beach claim it’s the only way to get there. Or, even if when they have found the beach, claim exclusive ownership to it and boast that they know its every nuance. Truth is, you can spend your entire life on one beach and it can still surprise you. Ask coastal researchers, oceanographers and those who lived for generations on the calm coasts of South East Asia who were affected by the unexpected tsunami. God, who is infinitely more vast and complex must have a few surprises as well I imagine. I worry about those who use scripture to define God entirely and predict God’s every mood, action and opinion about everyone and everything. They are convinced they know exactly what God will do in every single instance and how God expects them to act in every single instance. I believe they do it more for their own sense of security or for personal power. I guess it makes life easier to think you have an Almighty Deity all figured out and on your side in everything you do. You have all the answers to the Creator’s intended purpose for everyone’s life and everyone’s future. All you need to do is flip a page in a holy book, follow a certain exegesis taught to you and voila!
It is often a good thing to help break down the thought process behind the person who starts any sentence with:
“God says that…” or “God thinks this….”
I usually ask, “God told you that? When?” or “You know God’s exact mind? How?”
Usually, their answer will be that they read something in a book. If so, then they will have to prove a number of different things; their scripture is the only existing, infallible, direct, unaltered, genuine word of God and only they have the correct formula to understand it accurately. And even if they think they can prove such a thing, it still does not substantiate being able to make statements and claim it is God’s current opinion on something or someone. Even in the many holy books God is unpredictable and changes Its mind and acts in anyway It feels like. God is a law unto Itself and so no holy book can totally define the extent of God’s powers, mental processes or purposes if God is truly omnipotent, omnipresent and infinite. The most any holy book can do is take a snapshot. That snapshot will have limitations of time, environment, angle, lighting and the existing technology of the camera used. It’s just like the limited perspective of those who saw the beach at a particular time, environment, angle and lighting. I would often tell those who treat the bible like if it were actually God, “God is bigger than the bible you know and existed before man even compiled such a book and will exist long after it.” I think if you care more about what is God’s side than trying to claim God is on your side you cannot follow a prescribed formula derived from a snapshot. You have to be there live and stay on that beach and keep vigilant and keep learning.
However, the problem starts when those who have never searched, never explored other paths, never beaten a path of their own begin to expound on the infallibility of their map and beach description. The problems escalate when people who hold to one path to the beach claim it’s the only way to get there. Or, even if when they have found the beach, claim exclusive ownership to it and boast that they know its every nuance. Truth is, you can spend your entire life on one beach and it can still surprise you.
At this point in my life, I think I have just spotted the beach and I am walking down to it to explore it some more. I have no intention of leaving once I arrive nor do I have to convince anyone else to come join me. I am not going to claim my path to the beach is the only correct one to take. I cannot say if what I currently see of the beach is all I will ever see. I know it will take eternity for me to truly understand this beach so I know those who claim they fully understand it are either telling a bold face lie or are depending on a snapshot and are not witnessing its immensity with their own eyes. If they did, well, they would be so humbled by the sheer enormity of it would render them speechless. Their own smallness and ignorance would become so glaringly evident. They would feel so grateful just to have found it and feel so much joy, there would be no room left for hate and judgment. There would be no expectation of some additional exclusive reward because just finding it is its own complete reward.
Yes, there is heartache, pain and fear when exploring this way but I would not give up the small spiritual and personal breakthroughs I have experienced on my journey to the beach, for all the comfort rules and “certainty of reward”, can bring.