Smoothening rough edges

Sea glass is fragments of broken glass objects which have been tumbled through the surf, made contact with the sand of the sea bed and the unceasing waves of the sea for such long periods of time that they become opaque and smooth.

May 13, 2022

By Karen Michaela Tan
Sea glass is fragments of broken glass objects which have been tumbled through the surf, made contact with the sand of the sea bed and the unceasing waves of the sea for such long periods of time that they become opaque and smooth. I was recently introduced to sea glass collecting, and spent many quiet hours walking the beaches of Port Dickson, head down, scouring the beach for a tell-tale glint or a specific translucence that would point to a smooth, warm piece of glass to add to my little collection.

Sea glass collecting, apart from enforcing a kind of meditative calm, is a profound experience of my connection to the I Am. As I marvel at the persistent force of nature that took a jagged, possibly dangerous shard of glass and, over time, smoothed it into a thing of tactile and visual pleasure, I also see the similarity of how God uses turbulent emotional conditions to shape us.

We are all, metaphorically, broken. At best we sail, as the hymn goes, ‘in fragile barques on tempestuous seas.’ The worst of us are flailing in rough water, holding on to nothing but hope. But just as it takes the sea years to smoothen broken edges and make them pleasant to the touch, so too our rough and tumble journey through life is supposed to transform us into beings of unique value and beauty. For a person like me, who is drawn to, and is happiest around water, the idea of being shaped by the waves and currents is more appealing than the refiner’s fire.

Each time I immerse myself in a body of water, I relive the promise of my baptismal night, on Easter, now exactly 20 years ago. That quietude of spirit, the quiet conviction that I was meant to be Catholic, and had been journeying towards this faith all my life, is renewed each time I feel the benediction of pool or sea water. It is little wonder then that beaches have become the setting for many aha! moments.

When I was sea glass collecting, I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly, there is no best time of the day to search for sea glass. As long as a sliver of beach remains, one can walk and hope to chance upon a little bit of happiness. This has made me understand that to God, anytime is a good time. He is available to us at all times, in all seasons, in all weather. Whether it is a prayer of thanksgiving for the ability to travel and see loved ones again after two long COVID-19 years, or the frantic flailing of Peter when his faith wavered and he began to sink coming across the water to Jesus, or the quiet, sleepless desperation of a dark night of the soul, God is present, listening and accessible.

Sea glass collecting can strain one’s eyes and neck. Walking hours with head down and eyes unblinking can cause tension to build, and tunnel vision to develop. Similarly, if we become too fixated on a certain want, need or way of thinking, we can block out what our other senses are trying to tell us. I once knew a woman who fixated on her childlessness. A lover of babies and children, she was a kindergarten teacher, beloved by her little charges. She went from supplication to pleading, then bargaining with God to give her the child she so desperately craved. As the years passed, her trust in God’s providence muddied into resentment.

She became so fixated on what her life did not contain, that she lost sight of the many other blessings of her life.

She never conceived, but when she was battling cancer, she was amazed by the visits she received from her once-toddling charges, now grown men and women. One of the women was shot in a domestic altercation, and the teacher ended up adopting her three young children.

When faced sometimes with the strain of fixating so hard on something one desires, it is prudent that we look up and around for a change in perspective. Shifting focus helps us re-centre and take stock of where we truly are in the big picture. Often, when we break the over-concentration on an issue is when new solutions manifest, or we are Spirit-led to different answers to a dilemma.

I thought of sea glass collecting as a solitary occupation, and therefore was unprepared by how interested people were in my endeavours. One early morning, at a remote corner of the coast, I came upon an old fisherman preparing his nets for a cast. He had been observing me as I made my way up the beach, and he asked me what I was picking up. I showed him my collection, only to have him rummage in his pockets to produce a few pieces of sea glass, and hand them over to me.

It was a lesson to me about how we are never as alone as we think we might be. As a species, we are designed for company and communication. Sometimes, when we get lost in our own heads, and over-obsess about issues we are facing, it can feel very lonely. But God, in His wisdom and care, always sends helpmates and companions on the journey to us. Sometimes they are the people already around us, other times, these lifelines enter our lives in strange and surprising ways, bringing much needed gifts of comfort, perspective and support, and in true Malaysian style, most likely sustenance in the way of food, too.

Finally, the diverse shape, colour and opacity of sea glass is a reflection of the beautiful variance of the family of God. One of the beauties of the Catholic Church is how there is a place for a multitude of personalities and character types. The prayerful and contemplative have Holy Hour and Adoration; while vocal supplicants have recourse to the charismatic groups. There are programmes for toddlers, youth, the widowed and divorced, and the elderly. The inclusivity of the Catholic Church is not something much spoken about, but I have found much more uncondemning acceptance of a multitude of sins, trespasses and flaws of the human nature within the Catholic Church than in other religious bodies. I may not see eye to eye with every individual, but each time I feel slightly abraded by a less than Jesus-like encounter with a fellow Catholic, I tell myself that not every piece of glass one picks from the beach has reached the fullness of its potential. Some you have to commend back to the sea for further work on the rough edges. The wonderful thing about the sea of God’s love is that it is vast, and works in His time only.

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action. You can connect with her at:

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