"Chasing The Shore"

"Chasing the Shore" by David Weale

From the first chapter of this book, I held a running conversation in my head with the author. Sometimes it was argument, sometimes questioning  and other times it was "Yes! I know exactly what you mean". That alone made it worth the read. I like it when someone makes me re-examine who I am and what I believe about things.

This book is about loving the land and the people, animals and plants that inhabit it. I agree with the author that we have been irresponsible in our treatment of all three and we need to change our ways. If the book had been stories and thoughts about his life on Prince Edward Island and the people he knew there, his appreciation for the land and his ideas on what we can do to better care for it, this might have found it's way onto my list of favorite books. Another of his books, An Island Christmas Reader, is already there. I have made reading it's charming stories and wonderful from-real-life Christmas memories a part of my annual tradition. I feel a peaceful satisfaction when I've read it, as though I've touched a more gentle and innocent time in the midst of our ridiculously commercial present day celebrations. Likewise, in Chasing The Shore, I sympathize with the desire to turn away from the man-made to reconnect with the simple and the natural. But when I finished this book, I didn't feel satisfied, I felt confused. I don't know if the author is laughing at me, judging me or just dismissing me as irrelevant. I know some of that must come from what I bring to the book, but some of it also comes from the book to me. I have to ask why, as someone who believes differently than he does, I am to be excluded from the respect and understanding he prescribes for all.

One of the experiences Mr. Weale shares, he calls "thin moments". I think, as he does, that these moments are common to all of us; we just call them something else, and we each draw our own conclusions from them. He is talking about those wonderful moments of perfection that our language doesn't have words to adequately describe. I think of them more as moments when time stops and even becomes irrelevant. When all is right with the world. When I am in perfect harmony with everything else and everything feels like it is as it should be. To me they aren't "thin" so much as "more" moments because that's what it feels like I've been given, a glimpse into a place where "more" is normal. It's like touching God. I can remember those times with more clarity than a photograph.

I remember one that happened when my granddaughter was 2 years old. She was dressed in a frothy white outfit, looking angelic with her pale blond curls and trusting blue eyes. She was standing on a kitchen chair and was reaching up with her arms for me to pick her up. Time stopped. It would be impossible to make anyone else understand what happened in those few seconds. I felt that we were part of the same life force that I call God, and that made us part of each other. It was all that was needed. It was perfect. It was crystal clear. And then it was over and she was wiping ketchup on my sleeve.

But back to the book.

The author makes it clear that he has no tolerance for the church. It is unfortunate that his experience has given him a skewed and sometimes bitter picture of Christianity. When what is meant to be loving and freeing is allowed to become judgemental and alienating, terrible damage is done. His lack of affection for the church is sad, but understandable. It seems though, that what he does is throw away one religion for another. And as much as he dislikes religious people making judgements and setting rules, I feel that he's doing the same thing. He is judging those who haven't thrown out their old beliefs and is preaching his own version of what it means to be spiritual. He calls Christianity "illness". Are all who live a different kind of spirituality than his ill?

Though the author has good arguments for treating nature with more respect, at times he goes too far. He says (pg 47) that when Frances Schaffer wrote "Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation, in every age must be judged by this test: How did it treat people?", he was "sanctioning cruelty" toward other life forms, even if inadvertently. I think most people understand that suggesting good behaviour in one area is never meant to be also suggesting bad behaviour in another. If we're going to respect people, we have to give them credit for some intelligence.

As I got further into the book, I wished so much that he would stop talking about religion and get back to his wonderful descriptions of the island and it's inhabitants. But it was not to be. Statements like "...this is what I am - the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen." made it hard to keep taking him seriously. When he said "surely it is less blasphemous to believe I am God, than to imagine that I am not", I gave up.

 I do enjoy reading Mr. Weale's writing and will think about reading more of his books. I have to say though, enough with the metaphors. Now I like a metaphor as well as the next person, it may even be my favorite figure of speech, but a few chapters into this book I was beginning to suffer from metaphor exhaustion. I think it was because they all, no matter the inspiration, made the same statement. Every dream, animal encounter, beautiful scene etc. is interpreted as a sign of our inner yearning to break away from our constraints, reconnect with nature and be free. He can interpret things any way he believes is right, but it does become monotonous for the reader when the same insight is discovered and repeated chapter after chapter. 

One final thing. Page 114 says "we need to bring forth from deep within ourselves, a new, or greatly revised, mythology, that transcends tribal conciousness; one that honors the entire earth and expands the concept of holy land in such a way that every square foot of landscape, every drop in the ocean, and every creature (including ourselves) is regarded as sacred - something to be treated gently and reverently, and experienced as a source of wisdom and communion. That is our challenge." I agree that we need to take better care of the earth. What bothers me is the word mythology. A myth is by definition, not true. But we believe what we believe because we hold it to be the truth. It's impossible to hold true what you know to be myth. If I'm reading it right, the author is suggesting that we deliberately trade in our truth for a story we make up ourselves. It doesn't make any sense, and because it doesn't, it takes away from his credibility and lessens the impact of the important arguments he makes in defense of the land.


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