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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A theology of sand castles

The Bible tells me I am a foolish man who builds upon the sand.

I love to be on a beach, preferably an ocean beach where the tide leaves large stretches of wet sand. I build upon that sand.

I build sand castles. When people see them, they ask whether I build things for a living. I don't think I could build a doghouse. But I build sand castles. I have built on beaches all over the world.

Building sand castles has taught me about God's world — which proves that your spirit can be enlightened even in a humble pursuit.

A child in a sandbox takes a pail, fills it, packs it, turns it over and lifts the pail to leave behind a tower of sand. I do more. I make the towers, and then carve windows and doors, build walls and use a putty knife to square the edges. I make pointed roofs, carve stairways and build bridges and flying buttresses.

It's fun, maybe even "art," with a spiritual side. Art uses basic elements of this world — sand, in this case — to create another kind of world or a world the way we would like it to be.

For me, a sand castle is theology on the beach, a "story" about the world and God.

There are four elements to sand castle theology.

It is God's beach. This means that God alone is Creator and the one who preserves.

A beach is a microcosm of creation: life, death and eternity — grains of sand from millions of years ago, seaweed and dune grass, fish, land and birds — all in harmony, all connected. Remove the grass and the dunes disappear. Pollute the seas and the life there dies. God intends the beach to be rich, living and harmonious.

The first thing God did in creating the world was to separate the waters from the firmament. God made a beach. So when I stand on the shore, I am at God's workshop for creation.

The possibilities are great; sand — like life — holds promise. God puts me in this world and gives me some authority over it. I can do great things, even take a simple substance like sand and create something. What I do, whether with sand or with my life, is up to me and how I develop my skills and use them.

I dare not pile the sand too high, reaching beyond my rightful powers. Sometimes I try to build a tower, but it collapses. I thought the sand was the proper consistency, the design stable. But it fell.


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