Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Religious Experiences

Once, long ago, I witnessed a display of devotion, the memory undiminished by the passing years. It was Good Friday of Holy Week, in Guatemala City. The streets were packed with the Catholic faithful; I was on a roof, camera in hand. A procession of large floats, carried on the shoulders of hundreds of men in purple robes, moved ceremoniously up the street, towards the Metropolitan Cathedral in the central plaza. The floats, some quite large, artfully carved from native hardwoods, depicted the Stations of the Cross. Priests in black robes preceded the floats swinging smoking incense pots. I remember the setting sun shining down the street, bathing the floats with a golden hue. It was unforgettable, a sacrament, a religious experience.

Religious experiences are an essential spiritual nutrient, necessary in my experience to health and wholeness. If you want a fuller, richer life—seek religious experiences. William James, the “Father of American psychology,” found common patterns in worship with his thoughtful 1902 book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” What interested James was the meaning of these experiences, how there was something larger in life that draws us from our restless natural state. This column, “Finding Meaning,” explores the variety of religious experience of the saints, sinners and surfers, in a sea-side art colony. In my search, I have come to appreciate the churches of Laguna, and the common themes of their varied forms.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are three congregations meeting separately at their “Kingdom Hall” in Laguna Canyon, invited me to the resumption of in-person services after a two-year COVID-19 break. Knowing a little of this religion, I put on my best suit. There is a wide variety of dress in Laguna’s churches. Some are quite casual, aiming it seems for comfort; others are more formal, perhaps to show respectful reverence. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most formally dressed. As I told the Beautiful Wife, they look like they’re headed to a big job interview.

There were two sessions of the service, the first lasted a half-hour with songs, prayers, and sermon. The second, and no one left, was an hour lesson taken from their monthly publication, “The Watchtower.” The subject: “Make ‘the Best Use of Your Time’.” In the course of the lesson I observed something unusual—it seemed everyone had studied the lesson and was prepared to contribute. The article had 20 sections, each followed by questions answered from the congregation. How do you make the best use of your time?

There were three steps to better use of time, a pattern anyone might follow: 1. pray, 2. study (reading the Good Word), and 3. meditate.

This Sunday, Easter Sunday, is a high point in the Christian calendar. Following church, our family will gather for a traditional dinner with the Beautiful Wife as our hostess. I’ll make my scalloped potatoes. The older grandchildren will hide Easter eggs for the younger kids. Then we’ll gather around the table in prayer. It’s a religious experience. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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  1. Great idea, Denny. Paul could put this song on the world map. Putin would not like being unpopular with his own people.

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