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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Sand Beneath Our Feet


The color purple - bunnies, lilies, chicks, colored eggs, butterflies, and the cross - the symbols of Easter are everywhere. Not nearly as attractive as some of these, and certainly not soft and cuddly, a symbol of a different sort lies here in our own backyard, right beneath our feet.

The average person finds only the bleached white remains, its markings symbolizing the Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. On top, the outline of a five-petaled “flower” with a perfect five-pointed star at its center. Legend names this the Easter Lily and has the star representing the Guiding Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men. When broken, five little pieces resembling white birds are released. Some say they are the Doves of Peace, others say they are the Angels that sang to the Shepherds the First Christmas Morning.

In some parts of the world, five narrow openings run all the way through the body. These are said to represent the four nail holes and the spear wound made in the body of Christ during the Crucifixion. On the back of these, there is an outline of another five-petalled flower, considered to be the Poinsettia, the Christmas flower, and also a bell.

Living Sand Dollars are deep, velvet brown and sandpaper-rough to the touch. These cousins of Sea Stars and Sea Urchins are found in great numbers throughout our local waters where there are muddy or sandy beaches. Preferring the protection of deeper waters, living ones are not seen as frequently as the familiar white, rigid, flat, disk-shaped “shell” of dead ones. The lily pattern is actually five sets of pores which move sea water into its internal water-vascular system. This allows their tiny suction-cup feet to operate. These ancient creatures, totally covered with small sharp spines, plow slowly through the sand eating tiny bits of algae and detritus. Their mouth, found dead-center on their underside, is equipped with five tiny triangular white teeth. It is the hard, supporting structures of these teeth that form the little “doves”. Sand Dollars in our part of the country do not have the five holes that are found on some types - nor do they have the flower and bell on the underside.

Symbolism is a very old, rich part of the human culture. It is often how we associate and remember things that are important and dear to us. To me, knowing the facts behind the unique structures of the Sand Dollar does not in any way lessen the impact of the legend. Their design is so amazing - I turn them over in my hand, dead or alive, and remember ...

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures...”
So God created the great creatures of the sea
and every living and moving thing with which the water teems,
according to their kinds... God blessed them and said,
“Be fruitful and increase in number
and fill the water in the seas...”
Genesis 1: 20-22

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Psalm 8:9 & 9:1-2

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