How I Survived My Indiana Jones Moment: Adventures at a Costa Rica Monastery, Part II
The morning we left for Miami en route to Costa Rica, a Baptist friend who directs the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation commented on an airport Facebook photo:
“Must be a monastery of some sort there you’re visiting. Or, are you actually going on a vacation?”
This is how friends and family have come to know our interfaith “vacations.” They almost always involve Jesus and Krishna, a Hindu monastery or Christian retreat center, preferably with no toilet paper or hot water.
And, there must be panic attacks, one of which must occur on Day One. This is a Trent-Eaker Interfaith Tradition.
After the evening shower lesson in kneeling, I was certain we were in for smooth sailing. I was now strong enough to kick my panic attack pattern with my calm super-wife powers and freshly washed hair.
The following morning, a female monastic resident offered to take us on a tour of the community. We were grateful for her time; her Polish accent, jovial sense of humor, and soft-yet-knowledgeable voice gave me comfort. She led us up the jungle hillside where we drooled over homegrown pineapples and the wonder of sustainable living.
The next stop on her tour was Douji Kund, a natural waterfall whose collection pool was made with hard work and love by eager monks.
The road leading down to head of the waterfall trail is packed dirt. It’s wide and innocuous, broad enough for an SUV or two horses trotting side-by-side. It creates a false sense of security, because the path narrows at a grassy hilltop where a slender person can fit through a fence opening.
I witnessed our female monastic guide put down her large steel water canister just after we squeezed through. I should have taken that as a sign.
One needed an army of hands, feet, a walking stick, and a crane to make the Indiana Jones trek we were about to take. The trail was now no more than 12 inches wide, the kind of precarious rocky path you hear Grand Canyon tourist descent describe, the one where some mule takes you down, oblivious to the height differential.
The kind of trail where one false step is a straight drop into the canopy of nowhere.
The older I get, the clumsier I get, and thus the more I avoid these types of situations.
But, I was already “in,” and too proud to turn back. I treaded carefully, muttering lines from old hymns that tickle the college students whom I teach.
“Keep me near the cross, Jesus,” I said, like an 80-year-old grandmother who disapproves of rock music.
I repeated my mantra, and gravity pulled harder. I slipped on brown leaves from a tropical tree I cannot identify.
I gripped the side of the mountain for dirty roots and rocks. I’m friends with neither, so touching them is indicative of my desperation. Each effort to maintain balance was lost, and my legs becoming irritated with the rest of my body.
So, I sat down. Right there, in the middle of the jungle, only a foot-wide strip of rich dirt between me and the 100+ foot free fall below me.
Then, I panicked, my chest heaving like a dog in the mid-summer boil.
“Fred! I cannot do this!”
This is another mantra I repeat often.
I closed my eyes and thought:
This is happening. I’m going to have a heart attack on the side of a mountain in a remote Central American jungle. They’ll have to heave my dead body off the cliff and tell my mother, “I’m sorry, Ms. Trent. We did all we could do for her.”
“You go on without me,” I urged Fred, because I wanted to die in private.
Graciously, the tour guide monk had already trekked further down the path, offering us space, and I was relieved she wouldn’t witness my demise.
“Go, on!” I shooed Fred.
But, he sat with me, the two of is squeezed against each other in the narrow way. Fred, who is very afraid of heights, was the calming force on the Indiana Jones trail, with his “I-know-you-can-do-this” cheerleading of my life.
“Well, ok, OK!” I conceded.
Sometimes the only way out is through.
Fred lifted me to my feet, and led me down the remainder of the steep trail.
“Not too much further,” he said.
Just beyond my heart attack landmark, the path widened to reveal a black rock waterfall with a stone pool. The land leveled and I skipped to its side, and if neither Fred nor the monk had been with me, I would have kissed its walls. Instead, I sat on the ledge, and scooped the cool water to my face, washing away tears and breathlessness.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, But those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4: 13-14
The three of us sat and smiled and laughed. The monk described how the pool was made and maintained, and how it must be cleaned after each raining season, when thick mud fills the bottom.
My fingers played in the water, and my heart repeated a new mantra: grace.
When it was time to head back, Fred smiled when he handed me a long but sturdy stick that was a foot taller than my frame, “Here.”
“Your Madhuvan walking stick,” He declared. “Use it.”
None of our interfaith monastic trips are ever easy. They’re difficult, like kneeling in ice cold showers, wiping your butt with your own hand, and nearly falling to your death.
But, bowing, sitting, praying, begging, and cleaving to the “cross” is the only way through.
The “cross” is the intersection of our life where the material world meets the transcendent, where we are knocked from the rhythm of everyday existence, jolted from the ordinary, and called to do what’s difficult.
Worship, service, sabbath, monastic visits, spiritual retreats, solitude, and community beckon us to these spaces. It’s the place of invitation to connect with Divine and with one another
In these spaces, the mundane melts away.
We see grace in smiles, encouragement, community, fresh pools, laughter, and walking sticks.
“Keep me near the cross, Jesus.”