Beach glass…

I’ve been a beachcomber for most of my life. Besides finding perfectly whole (un-chipped) sand dollars, beach glass is my greatest beach treasure. For you non-coastal persons – beach glass is broken pieces of bottles that have been tossed into the waves, broken on the shore, washed back out with receding waves only to have the sharp edges ground down and smoothed by friction with the sand and rocks on the beach. By the time combers like myself collect the pieces, the glass that once served to contain beverages became broken shards, now worn and frosted treasures by the elements.

Over the years I’ve brought home quite a little collection. At the beach today I collected a number of such pieces and began to muse about the parallels between them and the beloved treasures that God brings home with him. Here are some of my simple thoughts about how you and I are to God like pieces of beach glass.

  • First, you gotta be emptied…

People don’t routinely toss their full bottles of Jim Beam into the sea (unless they’re climbing back “on the wagon”). When I find them, they’ve been drained by the owner and pitched into the waves. I know that one of the best things that ever happened to me was to get emptied of me. I was pretty full of myself actually. Jesus wanted in, but there was no room for him in the “inn.” What I thought was my purpose in life (to contain something that made people feel good), actually kept me from being found, collected, cherished, and displayed by God.

  • Next, you gotta get broken…

I don’t collect whole bottles on the shore, just pieces of them. God only collects broken people, ones who know they’re not whole. Not to cap on alcohol (though I have every reason to since my own family has been direly affected by alcoholism, and my best friend’s daughters were both killed by a drunk driver)… but like I said, not to cap on booze, well, maybe just a little. I’m totally guessing that most beach glass comes from containers of beer, wine, and hard stuff. Before they were broken, they contained poison (OK, so I do have an attitude about it!). Now, they’re in little pieces and can’t carry anything. So their place in the world is something different, it’s to be beheld and enjoyed by God and man. What once was “whole” and full of “spirits,” is now broken but beautiful!

  • Your sharp edges hafta go…

I don’t take them home unless they’re smooth all around. It takes a lot of tumbling and friction for a piece of glass to lose its shiny, sharp edges. If they’re not smooth, I throw them back in the surf, hoping to discover them again someday when finally they’re properly smoothed by the sea. Before we’re “done,” God sort of keeps us in the process. And when we try to escape it before its done, he gently tosses us (it’s usually pretty gentle, but not always) back into the sanctifying influence of hardship and friction. If we’ll let it, the sea will smooth us. It’s like the old saying, “God fixes a fix to fix us. But if we try to fix the fix before the fix fixes us, then he fixes another fix to fix us!”

  • Trashed but treasured…

Beach glass is one of the very few objects made valuable by the actions of the environment on man-made litter. While I don’t recommend littering our beaches, when it’s done, the sea has a way of turning our garbage into an art form. God is the consummate recycler, and what he makes out of what was once trashed, now treasured, is better than what it was before.

  • Artificial duplication not recommended…

Instead collecting the “real thing,” some people become impatient and make their own artificial sea glass, employing the use of some sand and a rock tumbler. I consider it an abomination! OK, maybe that’s a little overstated, but I object to it for the same reason I object to putting clothes on dogs! It all but sickens me to see dogs with little sweaters, hats, and I’ve even seen tiny booties on them. I’m sort of kidding, but you get me – right? I’m just saying, what God makes, what he produces, isn’t capable of being adequately replicated by human ingenuity. I can’t explain it, but man-made “beach glass” just isn’t the same. It has an engineered look to it. What God makes is “super-natural.” What man makes is neither “super” nor “natural.” Trying to circumvent the God-factor is never a good idea.

  • The smaller the better…

The larger ones are more rare, but the tiny and daintier ones are harder to find (especially with these old and tired eyes of mine). It stands to reason that the smaller ones have been broken more times and probably tumbled longer in the surf. I muse about their long history and the process of their breaking into smaller and smoother shards; their edges shaped and tooled by the sand and the sea.

Similarly, the people to whom I am most attracted are carefully and painstakingly molded in God’s tumbler. They’ve lost their ostentatious shine and don’t jab you when you get close. They’re broken but their edges are smooth. Your interactions with them make you better rather than bloody.

It reminds me of the upside down kingdom of Jesus, where the way up is down, the poor are rich and the rich poor.  In his way of thinking you’re more likely to be a “bigger” person if you recognize how small you are. God defeated the biggest giant with the smallest son of Jesse, and Jesus fed the largest group with the most meager lunch. In this kingdom, if we want to be great we have be great at serving. These are the ones to which I’m most attracted.

  • No two are alike…

Sea glass treasures come in all shapes, colors and sizes. That’s what makes combing for them such an adventure. Though all of those worthy of collection bear the same qualifying traits (broken, worn, and smoothed over lots of time), they’re all different, each distinctive in its own way. When in its former “unbroken” state, it bore no distinctive qualities. It came off an assembly line alongside millions of other identical containers – all with the same capacity, shape and hue. Its uniqueness now in its recycled state is what’s most impressive. While it’s interesting to muse about what a certain piece used to be (in its “whole” form), what it is currently is most important.

My friends and I who are broken and sanded in God’s tumbler are similarly dissimilar. We each have our own distinct appearance and place in the world and display of the Comber.

  • Some of the best ones still show smoothed-over distinctions from their past…

I’ve found pieces of the neck of a wine bottle, still in its cylindrical form, the distinctive ridge on the lip, and yet entirely frosted and rounded by the sea. It’s fun to muse about where such shards come from. Frankly, I prefer their present state to their former (for both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes), but knowing what they used to be adds to the beauty and contributes to the intrigue of their attraction. I, for one, bear a number of distinctive marks from the pre-Jesus me. My friends with similar distinguishing characteristics from their past lives display a beauty that other pieces whose past is entirely unapparent don’t have. It gives them a testimony, a story to tell. It initiates questions from people combing this world for better lives.

  • Best as part of a collection…

For the most part, one singular piece of tumbled sea glass is not that impressive as a bunch of it together in a collection. My friend Terri has one of the largest collections I’ve seen. She and her husband Mark have combed the beach near their house for many years, collecting beach gems, which they display in their living room in several large clear glass containers. As cherished as one single piece of glass would be to them, their collection of hundreds (maybe thousands) of these tumbled treasures all in one place is what makes it impressive. A neighbor of mine, with her massive cache of glass made an amazing beach glass coffee table. One shard would not a coffee table make! It takes a collection; a display of many unified and strategically placed together pieces. So it is with those scavenged by the Master Comber. He finds us broken, polishes us, and displays us in a unified whole. No one of us is adequate to the task of pleasing the Comber and demonstrating his artistry alone. A collection of all the colors, shapes, and sizes in harmonious whole are needed to show his splendor and make him proud.

What about you?

Do you also have any photos of a similar collection or any personal spiritual insights to share about these gems of the shore? I’d love to hear from you…

5 Replies to “Beach glass…”

  1. I loved this Barney….these thoughts came to me….
    The finishing touches of the Master’s hand is when these rare treasures are finally placed in just the right setting and light. It is then that one can see they have been handled by God because His finger prints become visible denoting ownership.
    this thought came to me after seeing the picture above of the two fingers holding the green piece of glass…… love you and thanks….jean


  2. Reblogged this on Musing the Mysteries and commented:

    I’m reposting this very early piece for two reasons. I’ve been thinking and writing on a considerably “pushy” level lately and thought I might lighten it up a bit. Also I needed the time and bandwidth to concentrate on a number of other larger essays I’m working on. Hope this one re-speaks to you!


  3. you know uncle barney it must be in our dna Kelly and myself also collect sea glass we spend hours on seacliff beach enjoying eachothers company and just watching the dolphins swim around..we are so happy to find the smallest pieces to collect it is a very special moment together walking on the beach without a worry in the world..


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