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Lost Horizon

Posted by on in Paths Blogs


It’s easy to lose the horizon in my city life. Surrounded by tall buildings, staring down into the phone, I’m preoccupied and contracted. So every now and then, especially when I’m stressed, I think of Scarborough Beach, Maine. 


My family went there for two weeks every summer of my childhood, and I still return. Back then I was often horizonless, hemmed in by the rules and petty dramas of childhood. But all that fell away once I arrived—after a hot, nauseous eight-hour drive, crammed against three brothers—to “The Beach.”


Tumbling from the car, I’d leave everyone behind and run down to the shore. Coming upon the expanse of sand, sea and sky, losing my gaze in the vastness—it was heaven. Everything opened up before me and I forgot myself and all my troubles. 


And there was the horizon. Cutting sea from sky, sharp as a knife’s edge, it was a distant but definite limit — that led on to the limitless.


The sea touched the shore where I stood, connecting me to that faraway edge. I was drawn to the play of the waves, daring myself against them.  Knee deep in a wash of foam, venturing towards waves curling high above me, I would see through a looming wall of water and catch a thrilling glimpse of the sky through the shimmering, trembling green. Immediacy and distance, fear and longing combined in that moment. Even after the wave broke and rolled me back to shore, I would turn and race into the water again, addicted to that joyful terror.


Later, slack with fatigue, resting my chilled limbs in the hot sand, I would let my eyes rest on the horizon once again. Somehow it put everything in its place, even the excitement and craving of my wave play. Now the waves with their ceaseless action were lulling, reassuring. Everything continues they whispered against the sand. 


But there is always more, beyond said the horizon.


When I first read CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I recognized my own feelings about the sea and horizon. His child heroes have the chance to sail to the very end of the world, the Utter East. Slowly, with awe and fascination, they approach a towering standing wave, through which they view an enormous sun as it rises, bleaching out the magical world glimpsed just behind it.  Surely that land—like other places imagined in myth and legend— was one of bliss. If only we could pierce the wave and find our way there.


But attempts to do that are traditionally fraught with danger and ambivalence. Legendary sea-farers discovered that the living cannot trespass into the beyond without paying a price—nor can they bring its magic back with them. At the end of his voyage the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh grasps the plant of immortality only to lose it, while the Celtic Bran reaches a perfect, otherworldly isle but finds, on his return home, that 500 years have passed since he left. The first of his men to set foot on land promptly crumbles into ash. And so Bran sails on, an exile from his own time and place.


In reality, we know we can’t go beyond the horizon. It travels with us, eternally receding. It may border the land of the future (as we look ahead) and conceal the past (as we look behind) but we can only ever be in the present. As we look round we see that we are in the centre of a vastness, not only looking towards infinity but immersed in it. The horizon’s sacred circle is “open but unbroken”—embracing and unbounded. It tells us that there is space enough and more for all our sorrows and joys, striving and surrender. Space to rest and to release our cares. Space to become bigger than we thought we were. Open but unbroken.


So we can jump into the waves, lie on the sand, and hear the sea whisper: everything continues. And we can hear the horizon answer: and more beyond.


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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 04 November 2019


    As usual, great stuff!

    Maine is one of our favorite places to vacation, and I have also pondered eternity at the seashore. Your words reminded me of Marcus Aurelius' description of time in his (awesome and life-changing) book, "Meditations" (Book IV, Paragraph 41):

    "Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • Archer
    Archer Monday, 12 October 2020

    Thanks, Jamie--sorry I'm so late to reply! I loved your Marcus Aurelius quote, and it reminded me of an old hymn lyric: "Time like an ever flowing stream, bears all its sons away/They die forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day"

  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 12 October 2020


    Don't be sorry! I always love reading your stuff. It's gold.

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