Come on Down

A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I were in Avila Beach on one of those “death is nowhere in the background” kind of days when the ocean and sky teach you the beauty of the color blue, the sun shines specifically to warm you, and an infusion of sweetness permeates the day in some way you can’t quite put your finger on.

I arrived first and went down to the water. From there, I could see much of the beach and most of the entrances from the embarcadero above. We were texting back and forth, and Mom was trying to figure out which entrance to take and where I was standing. “Just come down and I’ll find you,” I told her. I knew I would see her no matter which route she took, but from where she stood, there was no way to understand the breadth of my view.

I wonder whether God is often saying this to us and we aren’t listening. We are worrying about which way to go or what to do because we think only one way will lead to God or happiness or wherever we are supposed to be. Maybe all we have to do is set out toward the divine and it will come rushing to meet us, like the father in the story of the prodigal son. We don’t have to figure it out because God can see the whole picture, and we can’t.

I told mom to take the stairs closest to her. Many teachers tell us to stick with the spiritual tradition we grew up with, as long as it wasn’t too harmful. Maybe that’s because it’s the closest staircase, the easiest way to head in God’s direction.

Maybe, when we stop trying to figure out where to go, we’ll discover we’re already there.


Note: The quotation “death is nowhere in the background” is a slight adaptation of a line in the poem “From Blossoms” by Li Young Lee.

Finding Faith

If you want to really effectively lose your car key, a stellar location to make the attempt is at the beach when the tide is coming in. Which of course is where I lost mine. Approximate odds of finding key in this situation: zero.

But of course I had to look. I’m not sure where that compulsion comes from, but I think it’s built into standard-model humans. I don’t know anyone who would leave the beach without searching.

I went one way and my friend went the other, and I thought, what the heck, I’ll ask St. Anthony (patron saint of finding things) and St. Jude (patron saint of lost causes, yes, seriously) for help.

I didn’t expect to find the key and knew that if it did, it would be due to great good fortune rather than any action on my part. Crediting my own finding skills amidst incoming tides and the shifting nature of sand would require some serious delusion. If my key and I were to be reunited, it had to happen because of something outside of me, but I still had my part to play. I had to walk a few miles, pay attention, and be open to the possibility of the key turning up. In other words, I had to practice faith.

I walked a couple of miles, paid attention, and maintained a steady attitude of non-expectant openness. OK, not really. I walked a half mile, forgot to pay attention, walked a little farther, started creating possible endings in  my head, remembered I was supposed to be non-expectant, got really tired of paying attention after about a mile, and attempted to not to completely give up hope for the second mile.

It felt a lot like meditation, and it felt as if this is what we are called to do. Show up, pay attention, be open to wondrous happenings but not expect particular results.

We didn’t find my keys. The run was not the triumphant, pre-race workout it was supposed to be, but the time at the beach was exactly the practice I needed.