A Bright Week on Vashon

After celebrating this Sacred Paschal Triduum by joining the faithful of three different communities for each of the moments of the one liturgy, we spent the remainder of the Octave of Easter (or Easter Week) on Vashon Island becoming more immersed into what has continued to emerge as our home in all but present housing. I have long come to think of the Octave of Easter as the privileged time in the liturgical year for hearing and sharing testimony of resurrection living during which those who have been baptized at the Easter Vigil reveal to the rest of the faithful the profundity of that new life, witnessing to the joy of living into Christ, even as they are lead mystagogically into a deeper awareness of those divine mysteries into which they have been plunged. I was blessed during this Easter Week, or Bright Week as our eastern Christian brethren call this especially grace-filled time, to hear the coming-to-faith stories of newfound friends and experience for myself something of an unbinding, a rising from darkness into a new and wonderful light.

On Easter Tuesday we set sail for Vashon Island. Before driving to the other end of the island and taking a second ferry to Tacoma, Michelle dropped off the kids and me at the beach cabin of a soon-to-be fellow parishioner who graciously welcomed us for the week. The kids and I played along the shore, baked bread, collected Moon Snail shells, and read books as we warmed ourselves by the heat of a madroña fire before dozing off to the soothing sounds of fresh water babbling in a stream seeking the ocean, the surf softly lapping the shore of the sound, and celestial rain gently sprinkling the roof—a three-fold watery symphony that inundated me with baptismal images.

Easter Wednesday began with breakfast on the porch overlooking the Puget Sound and then a tour of Chautauqua Elementary School where Miriam will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. Though Joshua was doing his best to make sure no one could focus on the tour the principal was accommodating during the tour and also helped to ensure a fruitful follow-up conversation with her about optimal placement for Miriam. Afterward, during lunch at a local pizzeria, we bumped into and shared a brief conversation with a staff member of the Catholic parish on Vashon with whom I’d collaborated previously. After lunch the kids played in a park while Michelle and I struck up conversations with their caretakers—something which common though it may have been in North Carolina is notable since we have rarely experienced such neighborliness in Seattle proper.

On Easter Thursday we spent the day with two families who have become fast friends. We gathered at the home of Marcus, known to many as The Coffin Maker, and his wife, Kelly. Though Michelle had to dip off island for the twice weekly night class she teaches at Tacoma Community College the rest of us spent the afternoon together as the kids jumped on the trampoline, romped in the woods, and climbed rope ladders. Marcus and I shared conversation about how he came to his ministry of crafting Marian caskets, the grounding realities of death and humble work, and prayer and family life—all of which reminded me of similar themes in A Time to Plant. Since it was the death of John Paul II that inspires Marcus’ coffins, it seemed most timely to be in this carpenter’s workshop as the Church universal was making the final preparations for the canonization of John Paul II.

Easter Friday, then, was my turn to experiment with commuting off-island as I headed back to Seattle for the Inhabit Conference to which a ministry colleague had invited me. This annual event brings together evangelical Christians seeking to reinvigorate the Church in a particular missional style. Though some of the vocabulary and customs were unfamiliar to me it was a great opportunity to be with fellow proclaimers of the kerygma. My head filled with thoughts from Free: Spending your time and money on what matters most, reflections from Michael Frost on the cultural obstacles to being rooted in the place to which we have been called, and Tim’s work with the Parish Collective to help us define the spiritual limits of our space and community (not unlike that of the cloister in the delightful 66th chapter of Benedict’s Rule) which is “small enough to be known in and large enough to live a lot of life within” (see The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community), I returned to Vashon Island and continued to be neighbored. We had dinner with the RCIA director at Seattle U., Rachel, with whom we had celebrated the Easter Vigil and her husband, Sean, who is a hospital chaplain on First Hill. I was first introduced to Rachel by my colleague and close friend from St Thomas More, Mary Ellen, who mentored Rachel in campus ministry. While it could be that we really do inhabit a very small world it seems to me, rather, that one can discern a providential plan in all these connections.

Easter Saturday, like all the days of our week on Vashon, was once again predicted to be rainy but turned out once again to be largely sunny, the perfect setting for us to visit Collin and his family who, in a particular way, I have been convinced from the moment of our first coincidental meeting months earlier at All-Merciful Saviour, God has brought into our life and we to theirs for our mutual upbuilding. Collin and Rebecca, together with their five children, presently have Jacob Sheep (yes, the same rare heritage breed of piebald, four-horned fiber sheep we once raised!) though they’re focusing in on their dairy goats (from whose milk they make some superb chèvre in which we partook) and some allied cottage industries (such as growing quinces for an equally tasty jelly). The children romped together for hours, we all shared a deep and graced conviviality, walked the land visiting bees, pigs, and hold goat kids, and I was blessed to learn how God lead Collin and Rebecca on their pilgrimage to their baptism. Leaving only so that naps could take place for all we made the short trek across the causeway to Maury Island both to visit the lighthouse and catch some nice views from the Marine Park but also importantly to visit Abbot Tryphon and, in that Orthodox house of prayer which for nearly thirty years has been under his oversight and functioning as the soul of this island, give thanks to God for the many prayers of friends and family near and far, through whose help we’re beginning to enter into a bright new life after having uprooted so much of who and what we knew and were blessed to build up in Chapel Hill. We concluded the day with dinner at the home of another island Catholic family who serve on pastoral staff at St John Vianney. I came to know Kevin, who serves as music director of parish, while he prepared a sumptuous meal and carried on a conversation through which I was blessed to share in his story of conversion once again revealing the ongoing salvation of God. Though their middle-school-aged children aren’t precisely peers of our children it was delightful to see how they took care of one another and see our children interacting together.

The next morning, the Second Sunday of Easter, we joined the community for their principal Sunday Mass at 10:30. The music was exquisite and I felt deeply bonded to the assembly. My young children both likewise noted that the two altar servers were friends with whom they’d played earlier that week. Father Marc proclaimed and preached the Gospel with simplicity and care. As I listened to the First Reading—one of my favorite readings in all of scripture—I couldn’t help but hear in the ear of my heart “today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” As 1 Peter wrote, we have been given “a new birth to a living hope…In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials,” we were beginning to experience once again a community of those who have “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” such that “Awe came upon everyone…[as] all who believed were together and had all things in common…[eating] their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.” While enjoying pancakes after Mass we entered into conversation with others, some of whom we had met or exchanged e-mails with previously, including meeting several other five-year olds who will be joining our daughter in Kindergarten.

The culmination of this Bright Week flowed out from the Eucharistic celebration with the Sunday afternoon feast. We first joined in the simple and elegantly chanted Divine Mercy Chaplet, which, I must confess was the first I have attended and which happened to be most appropriately on the day Pope John Paul II was canonized. This was followed by the now annual ‘cordero al asador‘ lamb spit roast. Collin offered the lamb and another family stayed overnight to roast and butcher the lamb for all to share in. The communal fire also gave rise to flat bread, fresh roasted coffee, and served to gather those who were sharing in several home-brews. We moved easily into several conversations to which were given time and attentiveness as I was blessed to hear two more resurrection stories, stories of how God called intentional discipleship and conversion. When the sun sank low and it was time to head out, we bid adieu for the time being to our friends. We unhurriedly made our way to the ferry dock convinced we’d miss the next scheduled ferry and need to wait a bit but slipped without haste onboard right before the Issaquah snaked through the water and deposited us back into our busy lives but renewed in our hope, refreshed by our deep experience of conviviality, and even a little sunburnt. I believe Michelle put it best when she remarked following this paschal feast that this was the happiest we have been altogether since moving to Seattle. Thanks be to God, alleluia alleluia!

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