I just got back from a day-long quickie cabin camping trip in Indiana with my wife and daughter. First, we met up with T.J. Storey (Tim) and had brunch at Fair Oaks Farmhouse — a ginormous and modern environmentally friendly farm (they convert their animal waste into energy for the farm, etc.) with an accompanying amusement park complete with kid train, rides, a corn maze, and a big rubbery bouncy thingy, gardens, dog park, etc.
After that, Tim showed us around rural Indiana and his project over at ReGroup.farm (check out his project here).
It was a long day. With a lot of car time. And a lot of back seat time for Rory speeding down long windy country roads while being forced into listening to boring adults drone on about boring stuff.
Tim took us to St. Joseph’s College, which closed down in 2017. This beautiful school was opened in 1889. It sent however-many-thousands of kids off into life. And it… Closed. It’s only been a year — and they do a great job keeping up the grounds — but the walls are starting to crumble already. It’s like the place had a life purpose of its own, to house and provide community for bustling students, and that purpose had been killed, so the place was… Sad. Apathetic. Lonely. Dreary.
At around 4pm, we headed up to South Bend Indiana to check into our cabin at the KOA. Alex, my wife, had a thing to go to at Notre Dame, so we decided to make it into a business-writeoffable camping trip.
When we got there, we were all cranky. To say the least. We city slickers aren’t used to those long car rides anymore. And then there’s the extreme stickiness and swampiness of the midwest. Oh, and then there was the incessant mosquito bites (bug spray didn’t help).
Anyhow, we definitely weren’t in ‘chill mode’ when we arrived at the cabin. We were in ‘let’s-try-not-to-kill-each-other’ mode.
But we made it. And we slept (kinda). And we showered (kinda), which took the edges off. But then there was the annoying kids summer camp going on while we were there, which meant Rory had to share the pool with a dozen or so obnoxious 9-year old boys who must have had a breakfast that consisted of Mountain Dew, pancakes, and crack. I had to tell one kid to back off and seriously pondered what my life would look like if I were to violently drown a third grader in broad daylight.
And then there was the sweltering heat and humidity of the next day (100 degrees in South Bend, IN). And the fact that we couldn’t really take refuge anywhere inside due to having Dagny, our dog, with us, so the most pleasant place to hang out was in the air-conditioned car. When Alex was at her Notre Dame meeting, we were trapped like the family in the movie Cujo (minus the rabid mastiff outside the car).
God is the sacred at the center of existence.
— Marcus Borg
We made it back home to Chicago at 5pm, just before rush hour and all was well. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that this thing that was supposed to be an epic family day trip turned into kind of a shit show.
My egoic surface mind sees it as a hectic trip that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It was a lot of work, a lot of highways and mosquitoes and humidity and tolls and sore backs from flimsy cabin mattresses… All for nothing.
It’s so true, what the mystics say (in many different ways) —
‘Nothing’ is God’s favorite material to work with…
Looking back at our trip with softer inner eyes and a wider contemplative focus, I see that the entire trip was holy.
The sacred was on offer in each moment, if I’d have just accepted it. Even — especially — the ones I didn’t notice at the time.
I mean, seriously, how privileged was I to have experienced the following:
- Our first camping trip with Rory (and Dagny, our dog).
- A shared meal and a personal tour of rural Indiana with a friend while making new ones.
- Seeing the landscape of the surrounding areas of this new place we’re calling home.
- Getting a walking tour of a closed-down Catholic University. (How many people get to do that?! Check out Rory playing the piano in the chapel)…
- Witnessing a historic grotto and chapel at Notre Dame.
- Walking alongside a beautiful shaded pond so Dagny could plop her hot belly in the water and Rory could fish with a broken door stop we found at St. Joe’s.
- Beating the Chicago rush hour home — a huge victory in and of itself.
Everything is sacred. Especially those things we don’t really notice at the time.
This is true of the rest of my life as well. The sacred center is always there. The divine elephant in the room at all times. Times of death, birth, joy, sadness, and every monotonous moment in between — there is a sacredness that underlies all of it.
Walk with me for a moment…
I wish I could go back to when I was 16 getting ready for school in the small bathroom of our tract home in Ceres, CA where my dad had just come home from the hospital and told me my mom passed away earlier that morning. I’d kiss the sink counter like a sacred shrine because that’s the place where a part of me died and a new one was painstakingly born.
I wish I could go back to the bedroom of our home in Reno where Rory was born to light a wall of candles and pray thanks for giving me the best birthday gift I could ever imagine. (Yep, on my birthday that year, we had a houseful of doulas and midwives. Rory waited a couple hours after midnight to make her entrance — guess she wanted her own birthday.)
I wish I could go back to that golf shop in Genoa, NV when Alex handed me that slip of paper with her number on it. I’d get on my knees and thank god for that very moment — the starting point that would blow open the doors of what I believed was possible in my life with this girl who was just crazy enough to love me as much as she has.
And I wish I could go back to yesterday when I was sitting with Rory in the back seat of an Uber on our way home. It was another ‘nothing’ moment, but she’s 4 and she’ll be 17 before I know it. Every moment together with her is sacred. How often I forget.
You can go your whole life skimming the surface without sinking into the sacred center of each passing moment.
And so, I pray…
I pray that I can see the sacred center in each moment instead of days, months, or years later. May I be given new senses to experience the depth and sacredness of life in real time instead of taking it for granted.
Holy, holy, holy.
Every moment, holy.