After our glorious and somewhat rigorous morning at Point Lobos, we were ready to rest and refuel. I had bookmarked a lot of dining options on Yelp before the trip, but I changed course completely the previous night when it suddenly occurred to me to search for ramen, one of my husband's favorite meals. The nearest noodle house turned out to be Carmel Coffee & Cocoa Bar which happens to be in the same plaza as The Cheese Shop, our next destination! I knew that must be our lunch spot, and what unfolded over the next couple hours totally confirmed that...
After we enjoyed our kimchee and won ton ramen bowls, we waddled...er, walked over to The Cheese Shop, where we met Brooke, who became one of my favorite people over the next half hour, as she let us sample a gazillion different cheeses. To me, Brooke was an angel because cheese is right up there with books, so tasting so many kinds of it was pure heaven. It brought me back to the best job (with boss) that I ever had - I was in eleventh grade and Trader Joe's opened its first Northern California store, right across the street from my high school. I was hired as a "cheese girl" - I cut, wrapped, priced, and gave out samples of cheese, and did unglamorous tasks like mopping and hauling cheese in an out of the freezing refrigerator, but the perks outweighed the drudgery...and so did I...just kidding - that was back when I had the word's fastest metabolism - it was the perfect season in my life to be surrounded by cheese from 3-10pm several nights a week and on Saturdays.
We left paradise, I mean The Cheese Shop, with an assortment of slivers (all we could afford) of our favorites - cotswold (chive & onion double gloucester), double cream gouda, triple cream brie, havarti, and Jeff's Select, as well as a tub of castelvetrano olives. We were planning to leave and go to a thrift store I had staked out in Pacific Grove, but first we needed to go to the bathroom, so we rode the elevator up to the third floor of the plaza. After we did our business, I was curious to see what stores were on this level, which felt like a bit of a ghost town compared with all the activity below.
While my husband was messing around on his phone (probably checking fishing conditions or texting his angler friends about their latest catch), I wandered down the lane, nothing catching my eye until I saw an art gallery with brightly colored paintings that looked interesting. I am pretty picky about art, so I pass up a lot of galleries, but my husband walked up and I told him I wanted to go in and check it out. He's an artistic soul, too, so he was game. We were taken in by the first set of paintings, a series on cosmology - a unique blending of art and science - and I was even more intrigued when I noticed a title on one of them - The Grand Design. I was beginning to have an inkling that there might be more to this impromptu visit than looking at pretty pictures.
As we continued along, I was impressed with the variety of subjects, colors, and techniques (not that I know much about art other than what my tastes are), which appeared to all be the work on one artist. Then my husband found a small picture toward the back which had Christian symbols and Aramaic words. He's an extravert, so he had no problem walking right up to the gallery owner (he had been on the phone when we first came in) and asking him if he was a Christian. He answered in the affirmative enthusiastically. His name was William Eatmon and he was both a scientist and artist, a modern day Davinci. Now that he had retired from his engineering job at Boeing, he could devote more time to his painting. We talked about our faith, about the world, about our families, encouraging each other not to lose heart, nor to become weary in doing good. My husband asked if we could pray for him, so we all held hands and closed with that. We practically bounced all the way back to the car after that, so filled with hope and joy!
That wasn't to be the last of our divine appointments on this whirlwind adventure. After we went thrift shopping and found a few treasures (I'll just mention here that it was the Second Chance Thrift Store and they were playing Christian music), we returned to our hotel with just enough time to change clothes, grab some cookies for later, and head out to dinner.
We had a reservation at Yafa in downtown Carmel. When we arrived, the people next to us were engaged in conversation with people at the table on the other side of them, so we kept to ourselves and focused on the menu...and the beautiful painting on the wall next to us, which transported me back to the Mediterranean, but to the Greek part, which I never made it to on my stay in southern France (another story for another time). I loved how God was continuing the art theme.
We ordered their most popular starter - grilled octopus in a "special sauce" (it really was) of olive oil, garlic, lemon, and oregano. It truly hit the spot. After we mopped up the sauce with bread, they whisked it away, and two lively middle-aged couples were seated next to us. We overheard that it was one of the wives' birthday and that they were in the area for Car Week - the kick off being the classic car concourse in Carmel (say that ten times fast!) the next day, at which point we would be leaving town, just in time to avoid the crowds.
I bet you can guess what happened between our starter and our main course. That's right we heard them speaking our language. Again, we waited a while, so as not to be intrusive or to assume anything, but as in previous times, there came an opening, which was when they were discussing what to order, pondering the octopus, so we had to butt in and rave about that delicious dish. Well, one thing lead to another, and soon we were engaged in deep conversation about following Jesus, marriage (each of them had been married over 30 years), parenting, etc...and when I wondered initially whether the husbands were Christians (we had just been talking to the wives because they were right next to us), it was funny because one of the men, looked over at my husband and said, "are you a believer, too?" It sounded more like a command (lovingly) than a question!
Once again we related our concerns over the state of the world in this post-Christian era of moral relativism, while encouraging one another to trust God. We were also able to share with them all of the divine appointments we had had in the last 24 hours, and so to build up their faith, and possibly send some more Christians over to William's gallery. When their food came, just as we were waiting on dessert, we held hands and prayed together, rejoicing in our fellowship.
When the Eggplant Delight, Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, the Pistachio Rosewater Pudding, and Moroccan Tea were but a memory, despite the load in our stomachs, it was like we were floating on air as we walked back to the car. On the drive to the inn, we marveled at how God had orchestrated our every step of this trip. It was funny, too, because I'm such a planner, and yet I had barely planned anything this time - just a rough, last minute sketch of what we might do.
The night was young, so my husband gathered up his fishing gear and we walked down to the beach. Carmel beach allows bonfires except on weekends, so I had been looking forward to seeing that. As the sun went down, my husband cast his line into the sea (he caught one!), while I traversed the sand, listening to the water lapping peacefully just inches from my feet and gazing at the the glow of the flames dotting the beach. The beauty and peace overwhelmed my soul with praise to my Creator who had revealed himself to me, and to us, in such personal ways through people, art, and the natural wonders all around us. I could not imagine the morning holding more, but I was about to be surprised once again...
We rolled out of bed and into the breakfast room (well, not really, but at the rate I'm telling this story, I figured I better speed things up) where we enjoyed two kinds of quiche - ham & cheese and vegetarian - also, fresh berries, which my husband had mixed with granola and yogurt. I normally don't eat until lunch, but I can't resist free food (well, included with our stay) and I needed to fuel up for our hike at Point Lobos, "the crown jewel" of the California State Parks, "the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world", just south of Carmel and north of Big Sur.
As we were driving along the coast, my husband (eagle eye), from behind the wheel, spotted a whale! He pulled over and we raced out on the rocks to see it. Sure enough, there was a sightseeing boat (definitely getting an eyeful) not far from where we could see the spouting blowhole and then a quick glimpse of it breaching. In all our years of coming to this area, we had never seen a whale, so this was quite a treat, even though (as usual) we had forgotten to bring binoculars.
A little farther on (keep in mind, the total distance from the hotel to our destination was only a few miles), he spotted the whale again! So once again, we pulled over, and ran to the beach (sandy this time, thankfully). It was Carmel River Beach and there were others there, but farther south, and none seemed to notice, despite us jumping up and down and pointing...so it felt like a special whale showing just for us. Thinking back on it, I am reminded of how it's like following Jesus. He shows up unexpectedly, but the more we seek him, the more He reveals himself to us. Meanwhile, we're beside ourselves trying to get others to discover and enjoy this wonderful treasure with us, but they are caught up in the cares of this world, and our enthusiasm comes across as lunacy to them.
A few minutes later, we entered Point Lobos (I almost said the wardrobe), parked at the farthest lot, and began our adventure on foot. As if the crystal blue water at China Cove wasn't enough beauty, we were treated the sight of harbor seals mothers and pups sunbathing and frolicking. We lingered there, gazing over the cliffs into the sheltered cove and out into the endless ocean. Continuing our hike, we found a set of stairs and climbed down to a gorgeous white beach, watching the waves and admiring the seascape.
Up at the top and out on the trail again, a man and his wife pointed out a sea otter to us and let us use their binoculars for a closer view. That brought back memories to an earlier anniversary, our first time at Point Lobos, when I had been pining to see a sea otter (my favorite ocean animal), and sure enough, God brought us several to enjoy (and again, my husband was the one to spot them first). As we walked on, we encountered a family from the Bay Area - it turned out that the man had just got a job in our county (in San Rafael, where I grew up, one town south of our town) and was about to start work. We encouraged them about the possibility of moving to Marin (from the east Bay) and all that it could offer their family.
We made our way back to the car (saying goodbye to the seals one last time) and tried to drive out to Cypress point, but there was no room in the lot, so we drove to Whaler's Cove (where we had seen the sea otters that other time), and hiked out there. We found seals again, but the dads this time - we could tell because each of the big lugs was on his own rock...except when one would go for a swim and another would steal his "recliner."
I had told my husband about reading 1 Peter, so we had decided to read it aloud to each other, which we did in a private little spot we found overlooking a secluded cove. We only got through the first chapter, but it was just right. Then my husband convinced me to steal away under the roped off area and climb down to look into the beautiful water in the cove, which we did for a few minutes, but I couldn't full enjoy it since I felt like an outlaw!
As we hiked back, we saw a group of Japanese tourists pointing out to sea - a whale sighting! We kept vigil, me with my camera/phone ready, but of course it didn't resurface, so we walked on, and then there it was again, with no one else to see it but us. This was the clearest view yet and I even got some semi-decent pictures, albeit from a distance. My husband was convinced it was the same whale all three times. I wasn't so sure, but either way, it was an amazing blessing for the first full morning of our trip to be graced with glimpses of such a magnificent creature, and that just we two would be privy to that unique beauty of God's creation.
That was our second divine appointment and in less than 12 hours. There would be two more to come that afternoon and evening, and another the following morning, which I hope I can relate in the fifth and (Lord willing) final post...but it might take sixth or seventh installment...
So since I've failed to have a consistent Bible reading plan for...oh, a number of years...I had hoped to try afresh with the start of the church year, but it didn't happen until the advent of Lent (pun intended), at which point I began following the daily office of the Book of Common Prayer, which takes you through the Bible in two years in a sequential fashion - not in order or chronologically, but through three books of the Bible at a time with each day having a passage from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and an Epistle. It also has several psalms (think it takes you through them twice). Thematically, the readings are patterned after the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea is to read the Word morning, noon, and night, but I usually just do it in the mid-afternoon when my children are having quiet time in their rooms, and if I miss that, then right before I go to sleep, or if I miss that, then two days' worth at once (which is what's happened this week). I haven't yet worked in the psalms, but I'm hoping to read one in the morning and one at night.
Today I read in Deuteronomy and Hebrews about belief vs. unbelief (God's faithless and unfaithful chosen people) , and then Jesus' words in John 3 about baptism and spiritual rebirth...fast forward to tonight when I read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis' favorite author) to my daughters, the chapter was all about belief /unbelief - including the truth that even seeing isn't always believing, and it used the imagery of baptism - the princess submersed in a a magical bath that cleanses and renews her, inducing a peaceful sleep. As we were discussing the Christian symbolism (really the first time it's been obvious and we're pretty deep into the book) of believing the gospel, dying to our sinful self, and becoming born again, which baptism represents, I suddenly realized it was all so evident to me because I had just read it in the Bible! Yet another divine serendipity...
I wrote the following in my prayer journal this summer and I was reminded of it this past week when we attended homeschool day at the Cal Academy of Science, where we watched Journey to the Stars (links to the 27 minute video) in the planetarium. "Watched" is an understatement; experienced is more like it. My 5 yr-old captured it best "I feel like I went on a rocket ship through space!"
Father, are you still creating? You rested on the seventh day, not because you needed to, but because it was an example for us, whom you made in your image and likeness, and so we, too, are compelled to create. With you, Lord, a thousand years is like a day, so does a day, or a millenium or more go by without you creating? Is our universe one of many? Or is every "new" thing here a work of your creativity? From the sun setting to a birth of a child?
It seems like you finished creation, and I know you will one day restore it to its original glory...in fact, even more glorious...but what about now? You designed this world so perfectly that even in its fallen state, so many things are regenerated, and it seems to happen through the scientific processes you put in motion, so that it appears you are no longer creating in this universe, but I wonder if it just appears that way to us because we are constrained by our five senses - that we cannot perceive your transcendent "hand" maintaining and creating.
Or have you willfully confined your creativity in our rebellious world to the spiritual realm? And so there is decay outwardly, but inwardly, you create life. Your common grace sustains your creation and your redemptive grace makes souls into new beings, a work that is not finished until you restore all of your creation.
You don't operate in time as we do - you always were and always will be - so is everything really happening simultaneously in the spiritual realm? I am groaning with your creation, longing for everything to be made right and to see you make all things new. Amen.
You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you." ~Nehemiah 9:6 (this whole chapter I read today blew me away).
I almost didn’t want to watch the final installment of the Lord of the Rings because I didn’t want it to be over. We were privileged to be able to see it at the best theater in the Bay Area, the Tamalpais, which is one of Steven Spielberg’s favorite moviehouses (it’s also where I once sat behind George Lucas when I was a teenager–wish I could remember the film!).
But Lucas and Spielberg had nothing to do with this movie, or the entire trilogy, which surpassed anything they’ve ever produced, in my humble opinion. It was masterfully done, but the secret to its success was something we can all relate to–-a great writer. The makers of the films were faithful to Tolkien’s text and masterfully depicted the intricacies of his imagination.
What really made this movie special for me was how clearly Tolkien’s Christian faith played itself out on the screen. I’m sure most members of the audience were oblivious to the metaphorical imagery (not allegorical since Tolkien himself denied using that literary device). I gleaned more than I’m sure Tolkien intended, but I believe that when the hand of providence is involved, certain stories take on a life of their own.
I couldn’t help but see Christ in both Frodo and Sam. Frodo bore the ring, “his burden”, our sin on himself and endured something of a crucifixion of spirit. He knew he was the only one who could carry the cross, so to speak. At one point, Sam says something like “I cannot carry your burden, but I can carry you.” That reminded me of the poem “Footprints” which speaks of how we feel so alone in our hardest times because we only see one set of footprints, but the footprints are actually God’s because he is carrying us.
Christ’s humility was personified in the hobbit demeanor which was always humble and giving. Both Frodo and Sam were servant-leaders like Christ, but Sam was the best example. He always put Frodo before himself, even allowed Frodo to make the wrong decisions, and stuck by him even in the face of his betrayal (reminded me of Jesus and Peter). Sam even carried the ring, and wasn’t tempted by it, in order to protect Frodo and the rest of Middle Earth from it falling into the wrong hands. Sam also seemed like the beloved John, the disciple who was closest to Jesus.
In Gollum, I could see both Adam and Judas. He was the first ordinary person to take hold of the ring, even though it meant murder. Original sin brought death into the world. When he pretended to leave behind his sinful life, he was so steeped in it – his own pride and lust – that he betrayed the one who was kindest to him and the one who had the power to liberate him from his sin (the ring) eternally – Frodo as Christ.
Aragon too was a Christ figure, the King himself. That final battle was like Armageddon. The Bible says that when the Lord returns, the dead in Christ will rise up to be with the saints (all the Christians). That’s exactly what happened when they freed the dead spirits from the mountain (mind you, I’m not Catholic so I don’t believe in purgatory).
Everyone who was part of the fellowship of the ring was Christlike in their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the others. My memory might be deceiving me, but I think that in the earlier films, both Aragon and Frodo were brought back from the dead.
Bilbo resembled John the Baptist. He prepared the way for Frodo by acquiring the ring. He was also Frodo’s uncle which is interesting since John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin. He also lived in seclusion like John in the desert.
In the first film, Gandalf seemed like the primary Christ figure but as the story continued, he seemed more like the Father to me. He directed their every move and knew what the final outcome would be. Both Gandalf and Aragon constantly empowered and encouraged the people. They literally breathed life, in the face of death, into their hearts.
The concluding scene reminded me of Christ’s ascension and the bittersweet farewell with his disciples.
The most significant aspect of Return of the King was also probably the most obvious theme: courage. As a person who struggles with fear (I even whispered to My husband in the theater that if I was faced with those orks, trolls or any of the other hideous creatures, I’d kill myself on the spot), this film really spoke to me. Gandalf constantly stressed not giving in to fear. They all knew that in their own strength, they would be defeated, but that greater forces were at work. Ultimately, God’s goodness always triumphs over evil.