The weather has been a little bipolar on the coast this week–one of those weeks you have to be ready for everything. Most of the days this week, there has been rain, then sun, rain, then sun, rain, then sun, sometimes switching in 15 minute spans. I look up from my desk to see gray and drizzle, drops against the window. I look down, look up again and have to squint for the sunlight. The sky is beautiful blue with puffy, white clouds.
Weeks like this mean you’d be wise to keep a rain jacket close by. You also want to have a layer or two you can shed in case the sun suddenly makes you break a sweat under your protective gear. We don’t really like having to make adjustments, but when they become necessary, it really brings us in touch with what is really happening around us. We see things we tend to pass by.
It is Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter, where we replay Jesus’ story from the triumphant Palm Sunday entrance to the Last Supper, Crucifixion, silence, and ultimately his coming back to life. The 40 days of Lent are closed out and all of us going without chocolate or swearing can once again gorge on Snickers and cuss like drunken sailors. As much of a downer as Lent can seem, I really relish it. I like times that slow us down, asking us to reflect and create new routines. I’ve been writing a haiku each of the 40 days and fasting each Friday. This Lent has been difficult for me to keep a good focus on. With the move to Oregon, a new job, and being separated from my wife (along with almost everyone I know) my mind has been in a lot of places. That makes it challenging to clear everything out and think meditate on sacrifice and our impending mortality. I’ve found myself having short, fleeting moments where I really feel Lent, then extended periods of life as usual.
It’s easy for any week we inhabit to turn into this blur where you did what you had to do to make it through. This was a busy week for me, because we hired our Summer Staff this weekend. I was in this marathon of sending out emails, trying to contact people, coordinating interview times, reading and evaluation applications. Then there’s the other stuff I normally do at work. I’m sure this sounds familiar. At the end of the day, it’s easy to go home, eat the easiest thing to prepare, relax your body that’s been sitting in a position it wasn’t built for, staring at lighted screen and watch a different lighted screen with stuff you don’t have to think about quite so much. At the end of the day, you’ve hardly seen anything real, smelled anything, felt the wind in the air or touched something with your hands. It can turn life into a pretty forgettable time.
I feel that heaviness in the eyes during weeks like this. I try to recall moments to share in my posts and nothing comes to me. They come in much smaller moments, just a smile in passing, a quick greeting with someone that seemed unusually joyous. A glance out the window at something beautiful that stops you for just a second. It seems like there should be more adding up. This is what the Friday fast does for me. I get hungry and tired. I have to stop. In my weakness, I find myself clinging to things, appreciating people and human contact. I can smell the trees stronger as I walk through the forest. Then when I break the fast, there’s this deeper appreciation of food.
Since this Friday was Good Friday, I wanted to be sure and have a meaningful fast. Last week my fast was mostly spent of the road, driving to a training. It seemed more like a feat of endurance than a spiritual practice. This week, I spent time during my typical lunch break in silent prayer, reading, with frankincense smells spread around. I decided that to break the fast I would walk to Rockaway via the beach and have dinner at a local restaurant overlooking the ocean. Pretty nice, right? The walk would be a pretty good walk, especially after not eating in nearly 24 hours. I hoped it would feel like a challenging journey to that humbling meal.
It was a chilly Friday, so I threw on a fleece jacket, grabbed my backpack and set out. The sky was a gray color and the wind was breezy. I considered my rain jacket, but then thought there wouldn’t be much adventure in that. I came out onto that beautiful beach near low tide, looking north on the beach to my destination. Gray clouds were moving in from the West. I took my shoes off to feel the sand and because I knew I would cross a couple of little creeks that empty into the ocean. Pretty quickly it started to drizzle.
I thought to myself that this fits Good Friday. It’s a day of thinking about the darkness in our lives, to think about death and the things that aren’t so pretty. So, I pressed on. The rain started falling stronger. My hair got soaked and started to drip down my face. The wind picked up from the West. My face began to sting on my left side. My feet were getting cold, to the point that it felt good to put them in the surf. I tucked my head down into my chest, but then water started to drip from my jacket down my shirt. I wanted to look West out onto the sea, but the wind and rain made it tough to turn in that direction. I looked behind me and saw this great dark grey cloud over the mountains to the East. This is what was passing over me, and it wasn’t done.
I felt a decent level of discomfort, enough that I didn’t notice how hungry I was. I was cold and wet. My blue jeans were becoming soaked, and I knew it would take them days to dry on their own. Then it began to hail. Hail? Really? As much as I was not enjoying this in the moment, I knew that later this would feel very appropriate. It was Good Friday. I wanted to feel something, to contemplate the darker sides of life. I was definitely feeling something (except for the extremities that were going numb). There in the distance, I could see Rockaway, and there was a blue sky over it.
By the time I made it to Rockaway, I had walked out of the storm’s coverage and it had gone East to the mountains. It had pretty much dropped all its rain on me during the time I was out there. I was soaked to the bone, cold, and hungry. I felt a touch of self pity, but I also felt like I was connecting with a big sadness. Not some sort of specific sadness, just all the sadness out there. A lot of people I love have been hurt, a lot of people I love are scared. A lot of people I don’t know are afraid and suffering. That’s important for me to remember. It gives me motivation to love, to appreciate, to give.
When I sat down at the Sand Dollar Restaurant overlooking a beautiful sunset on the Pacific I was shivering a little bit. My fleece jacket had kept my shirt warm, but my pants would not dry that night. I ordered the soup of the day. Then I had fish and chips. There were families and couples all around me enjoying food. I felt so humbled to have been so cold and hungry, felt so grateful for the food in front of me, for the means to buy it. I looked at the sun and the water, so big and powerful and gorgeous. Good God, so much love wells up for these things.
There is still the cold rain and hail though. There are still cold wet jeans left to carry home on your body. It will get dark and even colder. If we are smart we will anticipate pain and we are right to be scared. One day we will all stop breathing and leave all the wonderful things we love. That person who we believed in so much, who helped so many people, who we looked to so much for guidance will be killed by people who don’t understand, and we won’t be strong enough to do anything about it. But, just beyond the gray, the cold, the hail, there’s still sun. Keep walking. Keep hope alive that your stomach will be filled again. Remember the rain. Remember the warm soup.