The Saints of Santa Barbara

6/27

Palisades, CA

Made my way down to the beach and took a seat, feeling nauseous.  Tried to get in the water, but it was freezing.  So I walked in up to my knees and splashed some over me.  That seemed to help.  Sat and prayed, meditated, then was on my way.

I made my way along the coast, watching an army of surfers wading silently in the ocean, waiting for the next big wave.  I thought of what it’s like to wait on God.  How sometimes, there’s no activity.  Just nothingness. Then ripples, some movement.  Then a roar.

Stopped and ate a lunch of beef jerky and granola bars.  I remember when I first started, the bag was really heavy.  As I’ve been moving, I’ve felt its weight less and less.

I touched base with a friend in Los Angeles.  He said he was driving to Santa Barbara and would I like a ride? I really had to pray over it.  How important was it that I walk every step of the way? Is this pilgrimage about the walking or about the journey?  I decided it was more about the journey and the God’s providence, less about how many miles I actually walk, and decided to take the ride.

I made my way into Malibu, walked for an hour, and stopped at a bus stop, waiting for my friend, praying.

My friend picked me up and we drove for about an hour and half into Santa Barbara. I keep looking outside, wondering what it would have been like to have actually walked that distance.  100 miles.   It would have taken me more than a week.

Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara is undeniably beautiful.  Spanish architecture, full of trees and sunshine, and people walking around everywhere.  Everything looked clean and brand new.  The public library was the nicest library I’ve ever been to.  Their check-out computer looked like something out of Star Trek.

I also noticed that there were homeless people everywhere.

I didn’t have time to write to anyone or update the blog, even though had an hour.  I just used that time to plan the remainder of my route.  It was about 5 PM when I said goodbye to my friend at the library and began looking for shelter.

The first church I stopped at was tall, majestic, and a with nice courtyard next to it.  An old woman with a lot of bags was sitting in the courtyard.  I walked up to the front door and saw a little note that said “Church Office hours: 9 AM to 3 PM”.  The door was locked, and there was an intercom button and a tiny camera lens on the door.

I figured the office would be closed, but I hit the buzzer just in case.  No answer.  I hit it one more time, then was about to turn to leave when I heard a woman’s voice through the intercom:  “Yes? Who is this?”

“My name is Daryl Watson,” I said.  “I was wondering if I could speak with the pastor.”
“There’s no pastor here.  There’s no one here who can help you.”
“Well…maybe you can help me?”
“No, I can’t help you, but thank you.”

As I made my way to the next church on my route – and was feeling pretty discouraged after that last encounter – I saw the weirdest thing: a woman wearing a white robe and bare feet, carrying a book.  She was so striking that I felt compelled to follow her.  She stopped at an ATM and I hid myself out of sight, not wanting to freak her out.  When she was on the move again, I ran up behind her.

“Excuse me!” I said to her.

She turned…and it turned out not to be “she” but a “he” – a short Asian man with a long hair and beard.  He was holding a massive copy of the Bible.

“Yes?” he said, staring up at me with kind eyes.

I took a beat to take him in, and then said, “Why are you in robes and barefoot?”

“Because of this,” he said, flipping open his Bible and reading from Matthew 10:9-10:  

“Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey or two tunics, or sandals
(emphasis added), or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”

As he read this, my eyes filled with tears.  If this wasn’t a sign, I didn’t know what was.

He told me he’d been walking in this manner over the past 25 years.  Barefoot, dressed in all white, preaching the Word.

A couple of teenage boys approached us.  “Preacher,” said one of the boys.  “Give me a blessing.”

“I gave you a blessing yesterday,” said Preacher.
“Give me another one,” said the boy.
“No,” said Preacher, “I gave you one yesterday.  You don’t need anymore.”
The other boy started laughing.
“All right,” said the first boy.  “Any words of wisdom for today?”
“Guard your tongue,” said Preacher. “Only say righteous things.”

The boys left.  I told Preacher about my pilgrimage, and that I thought that seeing him was a sign of support.
“That’s good what you’re doing,” he said.  “Do you need anything?”
“I’m having trouble finding a place to stay,” I said.
“Ask, and you shall receive, ” he said.  He pulled out a wallet and handed me $20.  My eyes widened.  This was not what I was expecting.  During my first pilgrimage, I refused to take any money.  This time, I decided that I wouldn’t ask for money or rides, but if they were offered freely and as a gift, I wouldn’t refuse them.  I thought that maybe if I couldn’t find shelter, I could use the money to find a cheap hostel.

I had also brought a phone with me this time as well, and was using the GPS tracker on it to try to find churches that I had marked on Google Maps.  I’d been trying to only use the GPS when I absolutely needed it.  This day I could barely pull myself away from it.  I was walking down the street, eyes glued to the screen.

I took a step, expecting sidewalk to be there where there was none.  My ankle gave way underneath me, and my foot bent to almost 90 degrees.  I nearly fell on the ground.

I cursed and straightened myself out.  My ankle was tingling.  Had I twisted it?  I mentally berated myself, annoyed that I was so dependent on this device that I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.

I went by two churches, but no one was there.  My ankle was still tingling.  I worried excessively about it.

I stopped by a black church and heard singing inside.  There were men within, singing hymns.  One guy was was on the keyboard (I took him to be the pastor, since he wore a black shirt with a white collar), another was singing, and another was on a base guitar.  I stood outside the door and peered at them through the window.  They gestured at me to come in.

I sat down with them.  It seemed they were just going through the hymnal and singing their favorite songs.  They invited me to join with them, so I did.  I won’t lie.  We sounded terrible.  Like…seriously.  It was bad.  We were all singing in different keys, different tempos.  But our hearts were right place, even if our musical stylings weren’t, and I found myself uplifted and happy after we finished.

Next came a sermon.  The pastor read the passage from Luke dealing with the parable of the prodigal son.  It was a good sermon and hit home, considering how much I’ve been running from God and myself all these years.

After the sermon, they all thanked me profusely for just walking in off the street and joining them.  They thanked me so much, I felt bad that I showed up primarily to find shelter.  I thought about not asking at all, but whey they asked me if I would be returning to the church, I finally admitted that I was on a pilgrimage and I asked if they’d let me sleep in the church tonight.  They all got very sheepish and looked at the ground.

“There’s no place where we can put you,” said the pastor.
“That’s okay,” I said.  “I’ll figure something out.”
“What about the men’s shelter?” someone suggested.
“You gotta get there really early for that,” someone else said.  “He’s too late.”
The atmosphere was growing more awkward and tense.  Finally, I said, “Look, I’m not worried about it.  God will come through for me.”
The pastor gave me some food, and a few dollars, none of which I felt comfortable accepting, but he insisted.

I stepped outside, ankle now properly hurting, and remembered that a friend of mine back in LA told me that one of our old teachers lived in Santa Barbara.  I reached out to this teacher to see if I could crash with her, but I got her voicemail.  I left a long, rambling message (I wasn’t even sure if she remembered me).

I went to the Salvation Army, but was told by a girl behind a plate of bullet-proof glass that there was a waiting list for a bed.  I should try the shelter, she said.  I asked her if she knew of a Catholic Worker house in the city.  She said no.  Later, I called a hostel, but I couldn’t afford their rates.

It was now properly night time.  I walked down State Street (Santa Barbara’s most famous street), which was teeming with people.  I started talking to a young woman who was sitting on a bench, asking for change so that she could buy a beer.  She was very nice, down-to-earth.  She gave me some hitchhiking tips and told me if I needed a place to sleep, I should try the pier.  “I used to sleep under there all the time,” she said, “and nobody ever fucked with me.”

I made – or rather limped – my way south toward the pier.

As I got closer to the pier, it got darker.  The pier seemed really busy – lots of people walking across it, taking photos by it, etc. I started getting nervous, so I decided to distract myself by entertaining every fear that popped up in my mind.  After I’d worked myself up into a decent state of anxiety, I began invoking the name of Christ and various Hebrew names for God. I say “invoke”, but it never feels like it’s really me who’s praying.  It’s more like someone else is praying the prayers through me.

My courage mounted.  I decided that I was sick of being afraid.  Afraid of the darkness.  Afraid of being attacked. I would face my fear and any potential dangers head on.  I had God with me.  I wouldn’t let myself fall into fear.  I would make myself into one who would be feared.

That’s when I knew I’d gone too far.

I took a deep breath and pulled myself back from that spiritual precipice.  I continued my prayers, asking for shelter and protection, and trying to send out love to make up for the dark thoughts I was having.

I reached the pier and scoped it out, watched the tourists walking up and down it.  When the close seemed clear, I threw my backpack underneath the pier and dove in after it.

It was nearly pitch black, so I had to use my flashlight to see.  I could hear that someone had a tent up about fifty feet away from me.  There was a loud fight going on between two people.  I tried to distance myself from them.

I turned my phone on and saw that I had a message.  My old teacher, Nadine, had called.  She’d gotten my message and, yes, I could stay with her for the evening.  I sat in darkness, dumbfounded.  I had been so prepared to sleep underneath the pier.  I had to shift gears.  For a second, I wasn’t sure if I should accept my teacher’s offer.  But after a quick prayer about it, I called Nadine and gave her my location.  She and her intern (and her dog) picked me up and drove me to her place.

When we got there, she fed me pumpkin and avocado soup, strawberries, blueberries, and wine.  It was the best thing I ever tasted.  The shower I took – which I desperately needed – felt even better.  And when I climbed into the bed, body aching and sore, I thanked God.  And Nadine.