Acting on a whim one dreary morning last March, I booked four nights at a bed-and-breakfast in Saugatuck, MI, just for Joe and me, our first-ever real vacation without the kids. On a family trip here two years ago, I had fallen in love with Oval Beach, and my heart’s desire was to return there and swim in Lake Michigan. Not wanting to waste any time upon arriving Sunday afternoon, after an early dinner I dragged Joe to the beach so I could greet the lake. Even so initially I tensed, a little intimidated, as waist-high waves rolled toward me that first night. The next day, their rhythm became my own, and I allowed myself to be held, carried, moved along to nowhere in particular, without a specific timetable, in true fluid motion.
I believe that my earliest sensory memories are from childhood trips to a family lake home in Minnesota. There is a photo of me at under a year old, clad only in a diaper with sand stuck to my legs and arms, squinting up at the camera with a satisfied smile. I remember as a young child standing in the shallow water trying in vain to catch the minnows that darted around. To this day, making my way over hot dry sand to the hard-packed shoreline and into the clear cool water is a personal and spiritual homecoming, a profound sense of returning to my origins. More cosmically than just my personal history, to immerse in a lake is such a return, as each of us began our journey in water called amniotic fluid, and life in general arose in the great bodies of water before there were living beings on land. For spiritual reflection on the trip I had brought along Christine Valters Paintner’s guide to praying with the four elements. The chapter on water contains the following Celtic Prayer excerpt that spoke to me this week at Lake Michigan.
Deep peace of the running wave to you, of water flowing, rising and falling,
sometimes advancing, sometimes receding . . .
May the stream of your life flow unimpeded!
Deep peace of the running wave to you!
I was glad that I had fully savored swimming in the lake the first two days of our trip as the weather turned very windy and chilly. The waves were so high, with white caps as far as we could see, I didn’t feel comfortable going in; later we learned of advisories against swimming.
After all the wind and cooler temperatures, the following day, our last, the water was an icy 63 degrees. There was a good crowd at the beach but few people actually swam; those who did only stayed in a short while. We enjoyed the sunshine and relentless whoosh and crash of the breaking waves. I’d go get my feet wet every so often, contemplating immersion. Finally as the afternoon waned, I worked up the nerve to go all the way in the lake. Three bracing dunks later – like baptism, I later thought – and the trip was complete.