This past week, I discovered two unexpected objects that have brought me great joy, transporting me to a much-loved place and to memories of time spent with much-loved family members.

The first object is technological: a Webcam. The second is more rustic: a wooden spool used to hold electrical wire. Hi-tech and low-tech. Two very different objects that carry me to the sea.

In the midst of this pandemic, as we social distance and stay at home, how many of us find ourselves both here and elsewhere, thanks to prayer, technology, and our own rich memories?

A family member told me about the first object, a Webcam set on my favorite beach. I found it one morning after prayer and spent some minutes drinking in the view. Suddenly, the camera turned toward the east, where the sun was rising, the sky like the blush of a ripe peach, not quite red and not quite rose. The birds were feeding and skittering along the edge of the waves, while others stood drowsily in groups near the bracken and drying foam along the high tide line. And I saw what looked like dolphins breaking the surface of the ocean farther out, or perhaps they were pelicans dive bombing for breakfast (it was hard to tell in that light). There was a shrimp boat in the distance. And I realized that I’d been holding my breath, so grateful and moved at seeing the sun rise over this place that I’d loved to dearly.

I never thought that I would see a sunrise on this beach again.

As the sun rose, I could see details more clearly. There were dolphins and pelicans breaking the surface of the ocean, dolphins making their graceful arches out of the water and pelicans plunging straight down for fish. Other pelicans skimmed just above the water, one after another, each rising and falling with the waves.

Sometimes, I’m asked, “What did you do before you entered the monastery?” People are curious about sisters’ education, professions, life experience.

As I watched the sun rise via this Webcam, I discovered a new answer to this common question:

What did I do before I entered? I walked this beach in the early morning, as the sun rose. So many mornings, over so many decades, visiting family there. All seasons, all weathers. I walked it again, in the evening, as the sun set. I walked this beach, praying and marveling at the wonders of God’s creation. I walked it knowing that God was calling me to be a contemplative nun in a monastery near the mountains.

And before I walked that beach, before I knew exactly where God was calling me, I visited another beach nearby. I was a young, and my family and I had traveled south for a wedding. We spent a few days in an old-fashioned beach house, the kind designed to let in the light and capture the breezes off the water. And in one room on the ocean side of the house, there were two tables made out of great big wooden spools.

Wooden electrical spoolSpools like the one that appeared in the monastery last week, after we had some electrical work done outside.

The spool currently sitting in one of our hallways reminded me of those spool-based tables and that beach vacation. My sister and I put together jigsaw puzzles on those tables. They were just the right height. Perhaps we will use this wooden spool for a similar purpose. Re-purposing, reusing, recycling. A distant memory recalled by the appearance of an unexpected wooden spool.

“What do you miss?” people ask, usually after they ask “What did you do before you became a nun?”

I miss family and friends most of all. Everyone can relate to that these days. Then, I miss the ocean, specifically the Atlantic. This stretch of shoreline. This beach that I can now see on the Webcam.

God gives us everything, sometimes in unexpected ways. What we give up is returned to us. We come full circle – round the spool, if you will — and find ourselves again with the familiar and the deeply loved. Here, there, and, yes, everywhere.

What memories and unexpected objects have appeared, or reappeared, in your life recently, and how has God spoken to you through them?