My one and only interaction with religion at WWU happened while crossing paths with a CCF keg mission. I was stumbling out of a dorm party late on a Saturday night when I noticed three guys standing on the sidewalk watching me. As I waited for my roommate to finish hitting on a girl near the exit, one of the guys approached.
“Hey,” I replied.
A long, uncomfortable pause followed and then he introduced himself. I don’t recall much of the conversation after that, but it must’ve been convincing because he was ringing our doorbell at 8:45 the next morning to take us to church. I say us, because I roped my roommate into coming along. The service went almost two hours, with raising of hands, altar calls and threats of damnation. It was the full evangelical enchilada. Boy, was my roommate pissed.
Being a lifelong Catholic, the revival service was definitely not his thing. It wasn’t mine either, but I was entertained with the people-watching, and especially with the guy talking in tongues. I had seen a lot in my life to that point, but that was a first. Afterward, we were dropped in front of our apartment and that was the last I saw of our host until I heard him giving an impromptu sermon in the middle of Red Square between classes later that fall. As before, I was caught up in people-watching–some stopped to listen, some gazed in disbelief, but mostly people kept on walking, and so did I. While I would on occasion, attend a service during Christmas while home on break, church was a non-factor. I wasn’t without, however.
My church was the outdoors and through my immersion in it, through skiing, sailing and an occasional hike, I felt most at peace when I was in Nature. It would take awhile, but my awareness would eventually shift from me, to something bigger than me. And I would feel very small, yet connected to something really BIG. It was this experience that kept me returning to the outdoors and I felt a certain reverence for it. It was, however, disconnected from any doctrine that I understood, and existed separate from the God I had learned about in the church of my youth.
I met my wife to be in the waning years of college, and when we decided to marry we searched for a fitting place for the ceremony. Given my wife was a cradle Episcopalian, we ventured into a few of the churches in North Seattle, however after finding three parishes with not much more than aging, silver-haired rectors and fifty blue haired ladies in the pews, we returned to the Congregational church of my high school years. The same pastor was presiding, though his son had left several years before to seminary. The pastor was kind and helpful, guiding us through a Myers-Briggs exercise as part of his pastoral duties, and in an ode to the 60’s anti-establishment movement, wrote our own vows. Our voices were high and child-like and after much practice, we still got it wrong. She said I do. I said I will.
Within a year, I moved us to Los Angeles for a career opportunity. I was consumed with making the switch from engineering to sales, and my wife was working retail at the Glendale Mall. We lived in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, less than a mile from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories. I would ride my mountain bike up the Brown Mountain road to the El Prieto trail, a challenging descent full of hairpin switchbacks, thorny cacti and river rocks the size of wheelbarrows. Here again, away from the noise and humanity, I connected with something that I fail to accurately describe–from an engineering sense that is.
Gazing over the LA basin at the top of the trailhead, I would be reminded of how small I was, and yet I never felt diminished by it. I was energized rather, increased. Perhaps it was the reminder that I was not in control, and I found that to be such an amazing relief. On Sunday’s, I would take my aging, hermit of an uncle to a local restaurant for prime rib, deviled eggs and Becks beer. On the return to his house up Lake Avenue, we would turn east on Mendocino and then north on Maiden Lane, following it as it twisted left, then right, while the panorama of the San Gabriel’s shifted in the window frame of his ’68 Beetle. Here too, in the foothills, we were reminded of our place in the world. A toothless ninety year old, and me. My wife and I visited an Anglican church in Pasadena at some point, but felt out of place in the Sunday fashion show, and my company supplied Ford Taurus was no match for the BMWs and Mercedes in the parking lot.
Eighteen months later, we moved back north, landing in Washougal. As unlikely a place as I would have picked, it was the inexpensive property and proximity to the airport that was the rationale. I would learn later of a more profound reason for landing here. The children soon started showing up, every two years by my wife’s plan. We felt compelled to provide some framework for learning about faith so we ended up at the local Episcopal church. As we had found before, it had an aging rector and fifty blue haired ladies in the pews, but they were sweet and there was one other family who had children of similar ages. We decided to make it our home.
Thus it was here, in the last place I would have guessed, that I began to learn about Jesus. Not the Jesus I had been told about, however. But the intimate Jesus I began to experience–the Jesus that appears during the weakest and most painful of moments that emerge with a coming of age.