The Beach at Sunset: Crossing the Bar

Sunsets, especially sunsets on the beach are # 1 on the list of clichés to avoid in photography. Yet beach sunsets persist on Instagram and Facebook because they are breath-taking, evocative.

Photo credit: Jackie Gassett
Photo credit: Jackie Gassett


. . . the gauzy hinge between sea and sky, the limitless horizon dividing the elements, the disappearing point where we were headed.”

                   Patricia Hampl  The Florist’s Daughter

My mother had a placid and accepting attitude toward life and death. At her funeral the hymns sung by the congregation were full of hope, “I Stand Amazed” and “The Love of God” among them. Another song in the Mennonite Church Hymnal entitled “Sunset and Evening Star” (which was not sung) pulls out the first four words of Tennyson’s poem “Crossing the Bar” written in 1889 just three years before he died.

Crossing the Bar

Tennyson, also appearing to accept death as part of life, uses the metaphor of the sandbar on the beach to paint a picture of the tide of life pushing out to the “boundless deep” to which we return. The poet hopes that though he may be carried beyond the limits of time and space as we know them “he will look upon the face of his ‘Pilot’ when he has crossed the sand bar.”

This past July Mother crossed the bar into eternal glory and there she has beheld the face of her Pilot. Oh, how we miss her.

But now I must cross the bar of challenge and opportunity ever looking for new horizons. How about you?

What bar of challenge and opportunity confronts you now?




28 thoughts on “The Beach at Sunset: Crossing the Bar

  1. Lovely post, Marian, and a tribute to your mother’s spirit. Photos of sunsets and sunrises have become clichés on social media sites, but I hope I never stop appreciating their beauty. A couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I faced a challenge to reexamine my life–while living it fully and continuing my daily routines.
    Right now, my everyday practical challenge is to get my next book finished by my deadline next month–while still getting to the gym, preparing our family early Rosh Hashanah dinner, and appreciating sunrises and sunsets.
    Good luck in crossing your bar of challenge! Is there a new project for you?


  2. I applaud your efforts and wish you godspeed on your work in progress. (Dear readers, Merril is a scholar/researcher and about to publish another encyclopedia, The World of the American Revolution.) Yesterday, Merril, I submitted the publisher’s page for your Encyclopedia of the Breast to the acquisitions department at our library.

    As for my bar of challenge – Soon I will be enrolling in a course to continue working on the memoir version of this blog. Another challenge: The reverse roll-up in my Pilates class. Oh, vey.


    1. Thank you so much, Marian! Good luck with your course and Pilates. I will have to look up reverse roll-up. It sounds tricky-hard!
      (I haven’t done Pilates in a while–I’ve been concentrating on Spin, Bootcamp, and Zumba.) 🙂


  3. Your post today reminds me of a song I’ve just discoved by the name of “Oceans” (Where Feet May Fail). The Bridge from one verse back to the chorus is particularly meaningful: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Saviour. I will call upon Your Name, keep my eyes above the waves. My soul will rest in Your embrace, I am Yours and You are mine.”

    Each day presents new challenges of its own and our faith is made stronger until we rest in His embrace.

    Thanks for your commitment each week to take us to places where we may have never wandered.


    1. And you do the same for me and other readers, introducing us to “Oceans” today. I particularly like the phrase in the lyrics “trust without borders.” Thank you for spreading the hope, Carolyn.


  4. Marian — I, too, am captivated by the mango-colored skies of sunrise and sunset. And I’ve enjoyed the equally lovely word picture you’ve painted here today.

    From my perspective, birth is not a start and death is not an end — they are both continuations. Hence, Tennyson’s “boundless deep to which we return,” is what I think of as Source Energy, Divine Love, or Home — to which we return.

    What opportunity has presented itself to me?

    To do one “leg” in the “women over 50” category of a triathlon. I can either swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, or run 26.2 miles. I’m leaning toward the biking leg because unlike swimming or running, bicycling is something I do every day anyway.


    1. Thank you for putting a precise name to the warm tones in the sunset, Laurie.

      I would pick the biking leg too. Do you have water breaks? I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ll finish strong. By the way, if you came to Florida you’d have no ups and downs – just smooth, level cycling. Possibly Idaho has such terrain as well. Do I hear a blog post coming up!


      1. Marian – There are food and water stops along the way, but I wear a “CamelBak” that holds 1 gallon of water so I don’t have to stop to refill very often. I keep Cliff bars in a pouch (think kangaroo) on the front of my bright, international yellow bike shirt (I practically glow-in-the-dark). The first 80 miles are easy-peasy. The last 20 miles I pray for the rapture 🙂


  5. Captivating post, Marian! I too feel a sunset over the beach is one of the most magnificent views the world has to offer and understand its popularity. This is indeed a beautiful tribute to your mother’s spirit.

    I would like to finish the series I’m working on while my eyesight is still good enough. One thing I never learned to do which should have been on my bucket list a long time ago is learn to type properly. I still have to look at the keys.


  6. I always think that no matter how great a photo, somehow they never quite capture the real thing. So too with our pictures of the next life, which this sweet post on your mother brings to mind. I’m not sure I’m familiar with that hymn but love the way it picks up on Tennyson’s unforgettable lines. Blessings to you.


    1. After this post “aired,” Jackie Gassett, who photographed the sunset posted sent me two more sunsets, each out-doing in vividness the one I posted. She lives in Hollywood, FL more tropical than Jacksonville, which for me explains partially the un-real, surreal quality of the display.

      Yes, our pictures of the life to come are hardly shadows of what my mother has already experienced . . . and for us, yet to come. Thanks, Melodie.


  7. Your time of mourning coincides with our time of mourning in this house for our neighbor Jon, whose funeral was ten days ago. My uncle Christian also “crossed the bar” last week, leaving only my mother and her brother Alan here on earth. Grief if a poignant time. Sunsets take on a new meaning during these liminal times between life and death, one stage of life and the next.

    As so often happens, your post and mine are on similar topics. I am still putting finishing touches on mine, but thanks for the inspiration, as I continue the search for the new “why” in my next stage of life.

    Loved the Patrcia Hampl quote and the way you put the “old standards” together with contemporary voices, your Mennonite past with your literary life.

    So plain, so fancy, so Marian.


    1. My heart goes out to Vi and her family at this time of separation, which is what death is. Temporary, but grievous nonetheless. When Mother died I realized that now I have only one living link to my past, Aunt Ruthie. And you, your mother and Uncle Alan. I will be visiting Ruthie early in October and you can be sure we will make the most of it. Our wish: To see if she can still make the piano shimmer with runs and trills as she has done. We’ll also celebrate her 96th birthday.

      You are on your way to explore the whats, the whys, and the hows in your next stage; I see it happening. And I love the tag at the end of your comment: Thank you!


  8. Thank you for your beautiful post Marian, particularly today. As a church (and as a friend), we are constantly praying over an amazing child (such strong faith & joy) who is “in the vestibule of heaven”…


  9. Beautiful post Marian thank you .. may our lives when they set on the horizon and are no longer visible, be as peaceful and as natural as a sunset. And we who are left behind, continue to explore beyond the horizon.
    What confronts me now? A big question … mmmm, to finish our book on ‘Aging & Becoming’ ..


  10. I believe you have a partner in writing your book, Again and Becoming. I am guessing that is both a help and a hindrance at times. You always have a sounding-board and compadre, but then they may be the problem of pacing. Here’s hoping you both are always in sync! 🙂


  11. My husband takes many a photo of sunsets in our community and sometimes the sunrise at the beach. So ‘cliché’ it may be, I never tire of nature’s colors.

    This is a beautiful poem, Marian, and a fitting tribute to your mother. I love the reading of it as well.

    My challenge? A new school year presents many: new things to learn, new students to get to know, new paperwork nightmares to deal with, etc. You get the idea, I know. 😉


    1. I am sure you have taught Tennyson though I don’t know what grade level. When I was in secondary ed, juniors studied American Lit and seniors British literature. Yes, I do know the excitement and stress of launching a new school year. But some things I do miss. Blogging helps fill the void that my interaction with students once occupied.

      Thank you for taking time to listen to the audio, which always adds another layer of appreciation I think.


      1. I teach 7th grade. My most recent classes were in Brit Lit when I was in grad school. The poem is familiar, but I have to admit that reading it again and hearing it certainly gave me a better understanding of it. 😉


        1. The great thing about timeless literature like this is that meaning evolves as our experiences accumulate. Yes, we see and hear with greater awareness now. How nice to “talk” to another English teacher, Judy!

          Liked by 1 person

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