Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Five Years Ago: Eastertide Water

Five years ago, in the midst of finishing up my first year at seminary, I went on a weekend retreat in Marin County with the classmates of one of my courses at UC-Berkeley--a course on how we culturally, medically, and religiously approach death.  The retreat took place on Easter weekend, and I presided at a communion service for my class while we were there.  Upon my return, I wrote this.  As Eastertide--the 50 days-long season of Easter--begins this year, I hope that I have begun to become the minister that I saw this month five years ago.  -E.A.

I have returned to Berkeley after spending the last 48 hours at a Zen retreat center in Marin County (for peoples unfamiliar with the Bay Area, that is the land directly north of San Francisco proper). I went there with a dozen other students in my class on death over at UC-Berkeley. It was a great experience for growth and fellowship. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I can't specifically remember the last time I went 48 hours without a phone or internet--it was probably during my trip to Africa in 2006.

The retreat center was very close to the ocean--after about a 20-minute walk, you were at the beach. I and several other students hiked over to the beach on Saturday afternoon...I mostly kept to myself for that time, in part because of the importance the Pacific Ocean has for me because of my Oregon connection. Recalling my grandpa's place by the Oregon coast brings back a flood of memories--his cooking, drinking gin with him on the porch, and listening to his plethora of stories. It also brings back the memory of the ocean off of the Manzanita beach, which remains one of the most spiritual places I have ever been to. If I had to pick one place to go on retreat to every year, it might well be that stretch of the northern Oregon coast.

And so I walked along the very end of the tide of the ocean, letting its crests wash over my legs and allowing its continual noise to serenade me. And after walking along the ocean for so long, I looked down to be surprised by seeing my feet as clean as they had ever been--which is no small feat, since I go everywhere in sandals or flip-flops.

The following morning, Easter morning, I took one final walk around the Zen center in the morning to bid farewell to the aesthetically beautiful settings that I had been surrounded by this weekend, and on the center's property is a small, sqaure garden bordered with lush, green hedges. There are four benches, each dedicated in memory of someone, that sit circularly around a wizened, twisted, beautiful tree which creates the central focal point of the garden. Even in an already extraordinarily beautiful setting, this garden might have exceeded everything else. This morning, as I walked around it for the last time, I took off my sandals to let the dew of the long grass wash over and cool my feet once more.

In the Gospel of John, there is no Last Supper with Jesus and the Apostles. Instead, we find only in John the story of Jesus washing the feet of each Apostle in turn, telling them to serve one another, just as He has served them. I often think that in the hustle and bustle of our increasingly stressed daily lives, it can do wonders to remember in how many ways the creation sustains us, in the food we eat, in the clothes we wear, and sometimes, in how the dew and ocean water of the California coast can soothe and clean someone's feet.

And then I remember that I, too, am called to serve...and in the dew of the grass and the waters of the ocean, I have caught a glimpse of the minister that I could become.

Yours in Christ,

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