A year ago I took the day off from work and hung out at one of my favorite places to surf - an iconic spot called Swami’s. Twenty minutes from where I live, it’s located just below the meditation gardens of the Self Realization Fellowship Temple in San Diego. Filled with a rich surfing history, Swami’s attracts both the spiritual seeker as well as those searching for the perfect wave. I guess I was no different that day; having lost a spouse to cancer 7 months earlier I had a new appreciation for the beauty of flowers, the ebb of the ocean, the stillness of a prayer garden and the joy of gliding in water.
Stoked to do nothing but surf, read and vagabond I arrived early to snag one of the coveted parking spaces that overlook the cliffs giving panoramic views of the southern California coastline. Intending to spend the whole day there, I set up shop with my camp chair, stove, books and snacks. Settling in, I greeted my parking space neighbor – an older man wearing only cutoff jeans for shorts, his pick-up truck carrying all of his belongings. He had weathered skin and his eyes danced when hit with light. His beard and hair – a mixture of white and brown – flowed seamlessly together. His temperament was gentle. His name was David.
As our conversation moved from small talk, David and I began to share about our lives – our joys, our sorrows, our pasts and our futures. Hearing that I had been in full-time Christian ministry for the last 15 years, David’s curiosity was piqued and the topic quickly shifted to religion. Far from antagonistic, we both listened respectfully as we shared our faith journeys to discovering the Divine highlighting our commonalities and seeking to understand our differences. Toward the end of the conversation, David pivoted to face me and said, “I grew up Christian, but I have spent my whole life exploring other religions, and though I have no regrets there is one thing I miss about Christianity – the belief in a personal God who sees you and knows you by name.”
Like a time warp, his statement reminded me of a moment when I was sitting in a restaurant at the Portland International Airport waiting for a good friend. As I finished my meal, I pulled out my journal – it was one of those melancholic days when you see nothing good in yourself only deficits and failings, and I was trying to capture these overwhelming thoughts and emotions on paper in attempt to understand them. Suddenly my table-sever approached and noticed I was writing and said, “You have beautiful penmanship - would you write something in my notepad that I keep with me at all times?” Astonished and amazed, I agreed. While I could not see anything but shortcomings in me, someone else saw something good. While I did not think I had thoughts worthy of being written, someone else wanted my words in their cherished journal.
Moved to tears as she walked away leaving the spiral-bound paper with me, I reveled in the gift of being unexpectedly seen and known. Writing to her what I desperately needed to hear, I said:
Jo – Thank you for your wonderful service. May you know at the
depths of your being that you are loved by God; that the Father
runs out to greet you; that the Son leaves the 99 to find you;
and that the Spirit lights lamps of fire looking for you in the shadow places.
You are His beloved on whom His favor rests.
Take care & peace – Mark
My mind quickly returned to David, the warm sunshine of the morning and the stainless steel cup of coffee in my hand. We said our goodbyes - I sat in silence watching the sets roll in marveling at the grace of our conversation.
Truly the heart of Judeo-Christianity is the story of Infinite LOVE making itself known in creation, in covenant, in revelation, in incarnation, in sacrifice and in resurrection – and sometimes as an African-American woman named Jo serving your food at an airport restaurant or a weathered homeless man named David wearing only cutoff jeans for shorts. Whatever the form, the message is the same - you are the beloved of God known and seen from the beginning of time.