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WALK ON WATER … WITHOUT GETTING WET! (Dorset Tales 4)

Doing the 'Jesus Thing' on Weymouth Beach

Doing the ‘Jesus Thing’ on Weymouth Beach

I am walking along the promenade in Weymouth, on a hot and sunny morning, taking in all the sites and sounds as usual. I love the seafront at Weymouth, whatever the weather or time of year, with the wide sweep of the bay, the sandy yellow beach, the wonderful view of the cliffs to my left and the disappearing sea on the horizon as I look out, the magnificent shop buildings, hotels, and cafés behind me. I especially love the seafront at Weymouth in the summer when the place is all abuzz with holiday makers and the beach is alive with numerous side-shows and activities, most of which you don’t see at any other time of the year. There are the pedal boats, the crazy golf, the trampolines, the Punch and Judy Show, the donkey rides, the volley-ball courts, the roundabouts, the swing boats … you name it and Weymouth seafront seems to have it at this time of the year.

At the far end of the promenade is one of my favourite things – the sand sculpture exhibition. I don’t know who the artist is, but the exhibition is brilliant. There are usually two or three sand sculptures on display in a purpose-built, weather-shielded area, with the exhibits protected by netting. It is a free exhibition, open to the public, who can donate money to the artist if they wish to by throwing coins into a barrel. It is very popular with the public, who stop along the promenade to view the exhibition as they stroll by. The exhibition has been particularly good this summer because the artist has re-produced a large scale sand-sculpture of Leonardo de Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. It is quite brilliant in my humble opinion.

As I am strolling along the promenade, on my way to have yet another look at the sand sculptures, I see an even larger crowd round the exhibition than normal. When I get there I see why. The sand-sculpture of Leonardo de Vinci’s painting The Last Supper would appear to have been vandalised. Apparently someone got in to the exhibition during the night and destroyed part of the exhibition. The centre of The Last Supper has been smashed down and the figure of Jesus has been replaced with the head of ancient serpent or dragon? Nobody thinks that this is funny. Indeed I hear lots of murmurs of disapproval amongst the crowd that has gathered. There is a prominent notice from the artist explaining that his work has been vandalised by some idiot, apologising for what has happened, and saying that he will restore the sand-sculpture as soon as possible. Looking at this wilful destruction of the beautiful sand sculpture I wonder if the perpetrator did it for ‘a bit of fun’ or if he or she had a more sinister motive given the age-old battle between good and evil, God and the devil, and the biblical representation of Satan as a ‘serpent’ or ‘dragon’ (Genesis 3:14; Revelation 12:9; 20:2)?

As I walk away from the desecrated sand sculpture, and back down the promenade towards the clock tower, I find myself thinking about the importance of having Jesus Christ at the centre of life … and how easily we allow other things to displace him. One of the reasons why I love Leonardo de Vinci’s The Last Supper is because, in a way, it symbolises life for me. The painting shows a long table, with the Twelve Apostles seated along the length of it, and Jesus himself in the centre. For us, life stretches from the moment we are born to the moment we die and the key to life is always to have Jesus at the very centre.

I am still thinking about Jesus, and the place we either give him or don’t give him in our lives, when I spot a ‘new attraction’ amongst the various side-shows on the beach that I have not seen previously. Appropriately it is called ‘Walk on Water … Without Getting Wet!’ It consists of a large water-filled pool containing child-sized, air filled, water-tight ‘bubbles’ that kids can stand in and ‘walk on the water without getting wet’. It looks great fun and I wish they had a much larger pool with ‘adult sized’ bubbles so that I could have a go. I expect that somewhere or other such a thing exists … just not here in Weymouth.

One of my favourite Bible stories is the story of Jesus walking on water. There are accounts of this in three of the Gospels (Matthew 14:22-34; Mark 6:45-53; and John 6:15-21). This story, following the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, tells how Jesus sent the disciples by ship back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he remained behind, alone, to pray. Night fell and the sea arose as the ship became caught in a wind storm. After rowing against the wind most of the night, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea. They were frightened, thinking they were seeing a spirit, but when Jesus told them not to be afraid, they were reassured. After Jesus entered the ship, the wind ceased, and they arrived at land. According to Matthew’s account of the story, Peter (at Jesus’ invitation) got out of the boat and actually ‘walked on the water’ towards Jesus himself. In Matthew’s version Peter did o.k. at walking on water, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. When he took his eyes off Jesus, however, and looked at the wind and the waves, he became afraid, and began to sink until Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him.

Christian teaching considers the episode a miracle intended to show both the divinity of Jesus Christ (testified to by the control of Jesus over nature), and the importance of faith on our part (demonstrated by Peter’s success and failure in walking on water). Whatever the truth of this many ‘expositors’ of the Matthew passage forget that Peter actually did far more walking than sinking – he got all the way to Jesus before starting to flounder because Jesus was able to reach out and ‘grab him’ before he sunk. So the story is actually about the strength of faith not the lack of faith! Equally, the story encourages us to see that if we keep our eyes on Jesus we will be enabled to ‘walk on the water of our circumstances’ rather than be overwhelmed by them!

I stop off for a coffee on my way back to our car. It is a beautiful hot and sunny day so I sit outside the coffee shop drinking my coffee. I am at a table next to where two ‘locals’ are sitting. I cannot but help overhear their conversation. ‘Look!’ says the one to his companion, pointing to someone in the crowd walking by, ‘Do you see Jesus over there?’ I find that I have to look in the direction the man is pointing in, and indeed there is someone who looks like the pictures of Jesus we mostly have in our minds – average height, slim build, about 30 something years of age, long hair, beard, sandals? ‘Yes! He does look a bit like Jesus!’ replies the man’s companion. ‘No!’ responds the first man, ‘That’s what we call him … Jesus! He is one of these born again’ Christians. I knew him 10 years ago when he was a right mess … did drugs and all that stuff … always in trouble … angry, violent! But then he ‘found Jesus’ … and you won’t meet a more contented, calmer person in Weymouth today!’

I feel I want to know more about this ‘Jesus’ who has just walked by? I want to run after him and ask him to tell me his story … but by the time I have finished my coffee, gathered my things together, paid my bill, he has disappeared. I am cheered by the story I have overheard, however. Here at least is someone else who has discovered the secret of ‘walking on water without getting wet!’

Jim Binney

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