On a soft Autumn afternoon, under blue Idaho skies, I sit in a Japanese gazebo in the Zen garden of the Pocatello airport. I live in Las Vegas, the neon capital of the Western Hemisphere. There is no neon here, just stillness. Inside the airport, there is no one at ticketing, no one in the closed cafe, no other passenger. Eventually, a pleasant young woman in a TSA uniform comes out to join me. She is not checking to see if I am a security threat. No, instead she tells me her life story and many of her hopes and dreams. She is from Preston on the Utah border but would like to live in San Diego someday. She was in Athens, Georgia once for training back when she was in the car business, and was captivated by the green antiquity.
After she goes, I remember this weekend at the Diocese of Idaho Convention. I was the after dinner speaker. I began, "It is a sweeter thing for me to be here than most of you can imagine," then told them the story of how 30 years ago God had saved my life from cynical despair through the gracious agency of the Episcopal Church in Idaho. "I was born here," I told them, "through an at risk spriitual pregnancy and an arduous labor." It was a sweet thing to be here and the people this weekend were as kind and human as ever. I told them that "when I could not see God, I saw you." The truth is I still cannot see God anywhere so clearly as in the rumpled, fallible, oft-times maddening collection of people who stumble along together as the church. It takes better spiritual x ray vision than I have yet achieved to see God behind the opaque pride of the arrogantly disbelieving and the spiritually advanced alike -- though I still try.
Here I saw a few old friends from those distant decades. I saw newer friends whom I know from national gatherings of those who try to be the church in the wild and sometimes lonely places like Pocatello, Blackfoot, Arco, Austin, Eureka, Ely, and Pioche. And I met new people: a retired admiral with bushy white eyebrows who settled in Idaho Falls after giving up his life on nuclear submarines; a tall handsome middle school teacher who discovered how rich he was while teaching English in Turkey; a lawyer who was once a high roller in the state bar but now serves as the chancellor for this church.
I flew here 3 days ago, changing planes in Salt Lake, waiting for my connection in "the back 40" where all the planes are going to Great Falls, Helena, St. George, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, Grand Junction. I don't know what possessed me to ever leave the West. "How could I sing King Alpha's song in a strange land?" I did not tell Jesse these things. How do I know what she needs? Perhaps she too needs an exile from this arid spaiousness; perhaps for her an urban exile in San Diego or back in the land of green antiquity. I suppose I did. And I know I may leave this land again someday. Out here even the mountains are transitory. They erupted recently in geological time and may collapse in some seismic shift one of these days. As the Bishop of Idaho often says, "Life is short. There is so little time to be kind."
So this is not my life forever. Today, it is given to me to sit in a Zen garden at an empty airport in Pocatello and shake my head over just how odd that is.