The young priest cut the outboard engine half a mile from Horseshoe Bay off the Marin Headlands. He had no fishing pole, no crab pots. He spent most Mondays off from his stagnant ministry in this rowboat.
He tipped the engine up and back, put the oars in their locks, let the blades hang in the water. He waited, bow pointed across open water toward old San Francisco. Outside the mouth of the Bay, the barren Farallons called and the immense Pacific offered to take him. The boat drifted dully.
He closed his eyes. His seminary enthusiasm had met polite tolerance. He just couldn’t engage these natives with roots as old as the Bible. Power-Points were useless.
Small waves licked the side of the boat; the hungrier ones slapped it.
He had to do something physical. Every time he opened his mouth, platitudes came out. Tom, Rosa and the others knew it without saying so. They had learned something key, without schooling. He blushed. He had introduced Peter, the New Testament fisherman, certain the story would resonate with them. So wrong.
Eyes tightly shut, he pulled on one oar and pushed against the other, turning the boat again and again, until he lost internal count. He sat still. Where was he pointed now? Toward the shipping lanes? Toward home? Up toward Angel Island or out through the Golden Gate?
He had to give his mind away and trust his body to learn what these Miwok reflected in their calm, their touch, their eyes. He suddenly saw Jesus and His father Joseph in a new light. God Himself had put aside everything He created: Relativity, photosynthesis, amniotic fluids, angels and souls, to learn woodworking from a human carpenter. Before He ministered, He made furniture; before He gathered His disciples, He sharpened chisels. Joseph had shown the God of the Heavens, the I AM, something central about being fully human.
The priest had discovered that ages ago natives in reed boats had crossed the fog-filled Bay at night without getting lost. Eyes closed, he waited now as though in storm darkness, to sense the pull of the tide and the push of the currents, to differentiate the slap of the wind wave from the shove of the ground swells. Let me get this, he begged. Lead me to Lime Point. Show me.
The incoming tide was slacking. Since he was a quarter mile from the Point, the tide would eddy counter-clockwise. The wind had been out of the Southwest, so that would tend to take him landward. He felt the breeze in his hair and on his jacket, sensed his movement in the water.
He unfurled his tense brows without opening his eyes and rowed with deep strokes. Idiot priest runs into lighthouse, he thought.
After five minutes, he suspended his oars. The sea was trying to turn him from the bow. The wind was at the back of his head. Was that a rebound wave, starboard, off of the cliffs at the point?
He rowed again. His mantra was: Empty Me, Empty Me.
For ten more minutes of dip and pull, he was surrounded by blow, thump and sway. He suddenly stopped, shipped his oars and opened his eyes. He looked left quickly. Not too much open water separated him from a small rocky beach, a cliff, and Lime Point! He caught his breath; his eyes bulged.
He fished his cell phone out, wanting to tell somebody. After many moments, he slipped it back in his pocket. He could think of no one to call.
Published here: Microstory-a Week, 11-30-2011