Donald McCullough served congregations in Solana Beach, California, and Seattle and was the president and professor of theology and preaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He is the author of Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another and several other books. In this memoir, McCullough finds himself spending a lot of time by the ocean. He asks himself why and answers: “Perhaps that’s what I’m looking for: a place for my imagination to take over, a place where I can reinvent myself.” The waves crashing upon the shore assure him that there is a deeper mystery to life than what we can see with our eyes. The ocean whispers to him to be patient.
But this is hard for McCullough who watched his marriage and his ministry evaporate after what he admitted in private, that he had an affair with another woman, became public knowledge. Now at the beach, some pelicans become his spiritual teachers. These birds have been around for a long time; the species is twenty times older than human beings. With their mixture of beauty in the air and clowning around on the shore, the pelicans speak to him about survival.
Yet McCullough worries about his future prospects given all the gossip about his indiscretion. The diving pelicans give him a sign that renewal means throwing himself into the depths. And soon, McCullough is pondering the past and anguishing over the lack of forgiveness within the seminary community. He marvels that the pelicans don’t get bent out of shape by the greediness of gulls who constantly try to steal their food. McCullough realizes that he must find the way in and through forgiveness. The pelicans teach him that he can soar again, carried by God’s grace, which is indeed a very present help in trouble.
This account of a dark night of the soul down is well-written and a perfect example of the rich meanings that can come from a sacramental reading of the world. The pelicans open up McCullough to the art of letting go and resting in the arms of God.