Thursday, February 28, 2013

encounter at Tahquitz Falls

Dean and I at Tahquitz Falls
Dean and I spent a week in Southern California recently (thus the gap in my blogging).  I didn't even take a theology book to read, unless you count the one about a British satirist who wanted to be a monk! (I hope my supervisor isn't reading this!) Anyway, it was a great time of rest and relaxation and engaging in tame adventures.  I could tell many stories about our week (meeting a biker from Quebec in Joshua Tree Park, Dean being attacked by a cactus, hunting down fresh grapefruits in the neighbourhood, chilling out in the hot tub, sampling fresh California dates, splashing in the chilly ocean, and almost meeting Arnold Palmer), but the one event that sticks with me most is the hike we took to Tahquitz Falls on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.

Last year, a group of us watched a video about the life of Lonnie Frisbee (Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher).  Dean remembered one part of the documentary where Lonnie and friends had hiked up a canyon in Southern California to do drugs and hang out and ended up experiencing Jesus.  I did some research and discovered that the place was only 30 minutes from where we were staying, so we decided to go there.  Because the site used to be home to an Indian village, the canyon is now managed by the Auga Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.  There is a modest, glass visitors' centre at the base and guided walks are available.  We decided to do the 2-mile hike at our own pace so we paid our $12.50 each and off we went.  It was a beautiful sunny day as we set out on the sandy path.  The walls of the canyon rose up high on either side of the trail which meandered through rocks and shrubs and criss-crossed a creek a few times.  Not soon after we started, a small snake slithered across my path and I flailed my arms in the air like a silly girl.  I don't like snakes much.  Nevertheless, it was a near perfect hike.  Not too steep, plenty of things to see, interesting rock formations, and very few people on the trail. 

As we got nearer the falls (the turning point of the hike) I started to get excited.  What was waiting for me up ahead?  Would I be able to sense the presence of the divine Spirit?  Would I have an experience with Jesus like Frisbee?  Would we encounter a sacred place?  As we rounded the corner and caught sight of the falls, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment.  The falls themselves were quite stunning, but sitting around the clearing were about a dozen people.  Noisy people.  Teenagers were squealing and yelling.  Parents were eating lunch, talking and laughing and occasionally yelling out a word of warning to their energetic kids.  When we arrived, the tweens/teens has just decided to wade into the pool toward the falls.  More squealing and yelling.  The water was obviously cold.  One of the young boys made mention of going skinny dipping, and I think I actually gasped at that point.  Three of them then took off their pants and waded/swam all the way to a big rock, climbed it, and mugged for clicking iPhones held by various parents and relatives.  One young boy back on dry land kept threatening to expose himself.  Fortunately, an adult convinced him that this probably wasn't a great idea.

I waited patiently for the kids to leave the water.  I took a few pictures, I gazed at the falls, and I seethed inside.  Another couple came into the clearing and after I offered to take their picture, they took some great shots of Dean and myself in front of the falls.  Then they moved on.  A few more people came and went.  I noticed that anyone who came into the clearing didn't stay long.  They looked and they left.  Like me, I suspect that the family circus was a bit too much for them.  After waiting and waiting and still no sign that the noisy ones were packing up and moving on, I walked down the trail a bit and came to a large rock.  I found Dean lying there, gazing up at the canyon and the big, blue sky.  I climbed over a crevice and joined him, hoping that finally I would be able to find some quiet space to have my spiritual moment.  This was to have been a special trip, a place of meaningful encounter.  I had decided that it would be so.

I lay down on the rock and rested my head against Dean.  And while kids screamed and splashed in the background, I caught a glimpse of my hateful heart.  No kindness there for people not in line with with my agenda.  Very little grace for sharing a public space (like the seagulls in Finding Nemo:  mine! mine! mine!).  Whether anyone else was having a good time in Tahquitz Canyon... well, I wasn't even considering that. 

What are you doing? I asked myself.  Well, I am spoiling this lovely hike with Dean by having a bad attitude.  That's what I'm doing.  And I don't like it one bit.

What are you doing? I heard a small voice inside me inquire gently.  I am always with you.  You can find me anywhere.  Don't fret.  Enjoy!  See the beauty, the specialness all around you, even in the noisy people.  Oh, little one, how narrow your ideas are of me sometimes.  How you set your heart on a particular thing and won't let it go, won't let me change it for something better.  Will you let this go?

Yes.  I said yes.  I was still a tiny bit annoyed at the noisy people and their lack of common courtesy to other visitors, but no longer did I need Jesus to come down from heaven, hover over the falls, and put on a show for me. I had Dean.  I had sunshine.  I had legs that could walk.  I had ears that could hear the water and the squealing of kids.  And I had a friend who is always with me, a friend who sticks closer than a brother or a sister or a mother or a father.  A friend who doesn't live only at Tahquitz Falls.

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