Saturday, 6 June 2009

Encountering God through Belemnite Beachcombing

"Your activity is: Silence. Be deliberately silent, in a way you wouldn't usually. How you choose to approach this is entirely your call, but try to step out of your comfort zone a little, and notice what happens. All we ask is that you do it regularly (every day potentially) and do it mindfully / being open to encountering God through the activity. This is your act of worship, as it were."
Silence is a challenging thing for the mentally unwell. Very little is still or silent. Infact the attempt to be Silent made me more aware of the thoughts and concerns racing through my head. By chance I was collecting belemnites on Happisburgh beach and I realised I had been silent, calm and at one with God... So began my daily vigil of flasks of tea and beachcombing, accompanied by the awe inspiring crashing roar of the rough seas off this coast.
In belemnite hunting I have learnt more than I ever could have imagined about God or as New wine 2008 taught us "Isn't Jesus just like ... belemnites"

1) Belemnites are sometimes easy to recognise - sometimes surprisingly difficult to recognise
They come in 3 main shapes - conical, cylindrical and nippled- and lots of sizes, surprisingly different in colour and texture, but so often a glowing amber like jewel. One can often mistake rounded pebbles on their side or half buried stones with only a ridge remaining for belemnites. There is also a type of quartz found on Happisburgh beach that emulates their colour perfectly. So they are the veritable needle in the haystack albeit the pointed stone in the pile of similarly coloured stones. Sometimes belemnites themselves will appear encased in rock or too dark, too damaged, too rock like to attract instant recognition. Isn't seeking God just like that?! Sometimes he reveals himself as we are expecting, but sometimes will appear in forms and outworkings we do not immediately recognise. I even think that this is his preferred way of communicating with us - like parables - less than straight forward but far more rewarding in the contemplation and uplifting in the unexpected.

2) Belemnites are sometimes easy to find - sometimes surprisingly difficult to find
Often you will find belemnites scattered on the edges of small shingle banks near the low tide line, under the ageing sea defences and grounded in piles of pebbles left by the retreating tide, but not always. Sometimes they are proud and true on their own, well clear of the tide line, uncamouflaged waiting to be spotted, other times clustered together in a cache - finding one will lead to another and another. After certain tides they will be deposited by the benevolent sea in abundance, littering the shore. But on other days there will be a thick deposit of sand with few shingle piles to search and fewer belemnites to recover. Faithful searching has always rendered some reward - miraculously three tiny fragments one very high and blustery tide and 101 glorious fossils found by systematically searching over the banks on a more bountious day. Once there was a perfect one found when lifting up my foot, other times I felt led to fine or unusual specimens. Once I felt that if I kept searching in a particular place faithfully I would be rewarded and sure enough I found a beauty. Whether I was guided or would have found particular belemnites regardless is up for discussion but still isn't Jesus just like that?! Sometimes so easy to find, so willing to be found and sometimes, as in the Song of Songs, teasing in remaining just out of reach, challenging us to make a greater effort, trust, remain faithful, find more of ourselves to search. Revealing both more about ourselves and Him in the journey or pursuit. "When you search for me with your whole heart you will find me".

Belemnites swam in shallow seas in the cretaetsus and jurassic periods, they lived alongside the iconic dinosaurs millions of years ago. These fossilised relics may have been untouched by a living thing from that time, until washed from the eroded cliffs and smoothed by the sea, they are deposited - glowing amber gems on the shingle of our beaches to be found and stored in glass jars of curiosity. A precious pearl indeed - Isn't Jesus just like that?!


  1. thank you for this,
    debbie h

  2. The richness of the rusty colours/textures of the sea defences contrasting with blues of the hole are stunning.
    The search for belemnites reminds me searching for ammonites on the wild Yorkshire coast and the joy of discovery! The parallels with our spiritual search are interesting. ometimes it seems that I can search too hard or only in certain places and seemingly find nothing! But then if you don't look how will you ever find anything!?
    David M