April 13, 2007


I am an introvert. Being an introvert doesn't mean I don't like people, or that I'm necessarily afraid of big crowds. It does mean, every now and then, that I need to get away.

The trailhead.

This is the trailhead at a nature preserve located a few miles from my house. It's a California Department of Fish and Game Ecological Reserve, and an Audobon Society Bird Sanctuary. It's known as the Bobelaine Audobon Sanctuary.

I like the word sanctuary. It means a safe place; a refuge; a shelter. There is no hunting or fishing allowed here. If you were to walk the trails, you'd probably notice the many birdhouses that have been placed there, and some of the inhabitants of those houses. But the easiest way to know that this is a sanctuary for birds and animals is to close your eyes. The sounds of birds large and small sing a constant, vibrant chorus. Buzzing insects provide the harmony, and leaves flapping in the wind are the percussion accompaniment.

Recently, the Bobelaine Audobon Sanctuary has become a sanctuary for me as well. It has become a place where I can go to get away. Sometimes, when I go, I run. Sometimes, I walk slowly. Sometimes I just sit and listen. Sometimes I go with others, and sometimes I go alone.

Always when I come, I find the strength I need to live, to face my fears and worries. Am I raising my kids right? Do I love my wife the way she deserves? Am I leading my church in the right direction? How long until finances force me to move away from the church and community I love?

These are the questions that keep me awake at night. Spending time in nature has a way of soothing anxieties like these, making them more manageable. The inner strength I find reminds me of another definition of sanctuary: a sacred, holy place.

As the above picture shows, the trail begins with a climb over the levee. It then leads through groves of old-growth oaks, past green meadows that will undoubtedly turn golden brown as summer approaches and the rain stops.

Exploring the trails.

Eventually, it leads to the bank of the Feather River. Standing there, you can look across and see where it is joined by the Bear River. The waters of these two rivers are smooth and peaceful. By contrast, at home there is a steady stream of people—teenagers, mostly—that is anything but smooth and peaceful. Home is a noisy, chaotic place. Piles of dirty dishes and trails of laundry are the wake that is left behind. Doors are constantly opening and closing. It's a high-energy environment, the perfect setting for an extrovert. Which, as I've already mentioned, I am not.

I know what you're thinking: this is my home, not theirs. Why not tell them to leave? Certainly I have that right, the right to have the periods of peaceful calm that are necessary to my sanity. To have teenagers inviting themselves over, morning, noon, and night—it's absurd! Go home!

As tempted as I am to say this to them, to shout it even, I don't. The reason is that these young people have had extreme hardship in their lives. They have had experiences in their childhoods that I once thought only existed in stories, stories that are not very pleasant. For whatever reason, my home has become for them a sanctuary ...
and I know how important a sanctuary is...
so I let them stay.

Today, at the Bobelaine Audobon Sanctuary, I ran three miles. Then I sat, ate a light lunch, and enjoyed the spring sunshine. I watched an older couple walk by. He was carrying a camera with a large telephoto lens, attached to a tripod; she followed him, with a pair of binoculars. We didn't speak. Perhaps the grandeur of this sanctuary kept us in silence, the same way that walking into a great cathedral leads people to involuntarily lower their voices.

Now it is late in the evening. The teenagers are not here, and my own two young boys are in bed. Yet I have a feeling that the "big kids" (as we call them) will be stopping by before the night is over. After all, "late" is a relative concept. Who knows, they may even spend the night on our living room floor.

I'm learning to accept and even welcome their presence. It's not always easy for me. But I believe that everyone deserves to spend some time in the sanctuary.

Me catching my breath after a 3-mile run


Brian said...

Thanks for the reflection. I think most of us pastors are introverts, gathering our strength and sustenance from time alone, in quiet solitude (Hmmm. Reminds me a little of Jesus :) It's great that you model this notion of sanctuary/sabbath. Maybe it will inspire your church and the young folk to do the same.

Reverend Ref + said...

I would agree that most priests/pastors are introverts.

Even being an introvert, though, I think it's cool that the teens can crash at your place. Even if they have a decent home life, they don't always want to be at home. Lord knows I didn't. It's good to have a safe place to go.

Not to mention, you probably rank high on their "cool-o-meter."