February 24, 2010

Unexpected Encounter at San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano. Just the name conjures up a restful and peaceful place. It was for me back in October as I squirreled away a day to soak up the California sun and sit quietly.

After leaving a rather busy day and a half at the Disneyland Resort, my heart was primed for something a little different. I awoke early that Sunday morning, starting the day with a bit of Peet's Coffee in Newport Beach. Just resting in the sun, replenished my well worn feet from the previous day's theme park marathon.

Hopped into my car and right on Pacific Coast Highway. Passing the rest of Newport Beach and then Laguna, I headed south, then a bit inland before I stopped at the mission. A quick car park, and I was just a couple of blocks from the place.

Ever since I was a small kid, I found something wonderful here, something that renewed my spirit. A treat for my eyes and ears. The quiet splash of the fountain, the gentle footsteps of other visitors, and the undeniable hush of reverence that comes from folks exploring a combination church, living museum, and quiet botanical park.

There was rich detail to be found everywhere I looked. From the handcarved doors to the ornate altars (this is a Catholic church after all), to the historical exhibits, there was much to see, much to read, and much to stop and think about.

This places seems so out of touch with the trendy and expensive locales in Southern California! I'm sure when Father Junipero Serra walked this land many years ago, the thought of elegant restaurants and trendy boutiques was something he could not even imagine. For him, it was just the desire to express his faith to the people inhabiting a dry and mainly unexplored land.

On occasion as I strolled the mission, the ancient bells seemed to ring- and they called me to a quiet and very personal time of prayer, reflection, and hearing God afresh. I proceeded to the chapel, and walking slowly to appreciate the surroundings, I finally found a small pew in which to sit.

The simple and restrained hallways seemed such a contrast to the wealth and majesty inside the church. There was gold everywhere! Having expressed my life through the Protestant perspective, I was forgetting the importance of giving God the best as viewed through my Catholic brothers and sisters. This included building an elaborate altar complete with crucifix to commemorate Christ's sacrificial death on the cross.

Admittedly, it took a bit of time to adjust, but then it happened. I was aware of God- and it wasn't a wowing "He was here" moment as much as it was a gentle and profound awareness that "He is here now". I spent time sitting, reflecting and listening. In the midst of my hustle and bustle vacation to California, the half an hour spent in the chapel refreshed my soul. I sensed God's love for me personally, and in response thankfulness welled up inside. How delightful it is to love the Creator of the universe and to be known by Him as well!
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

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