Saturday Morning Kayaking
A young priest’s enthusiasm draws friends for kayaking—and something more.
What brought seventeen young adults together on that sleepy Saturday morning at the kayak meeting point in Ft. Lauderdale? It was an ardent desire and a simple proposal of Fr. José López, ordained a priest only two months earlier.
“I want to communicate to the people of my parish, and even outside of my parish, what I have met and what makes me live my life passionately.” “In order to do this,” Fr. José is convinced, “a gesture as simple as a kayak tour is enough.” The announcement got out. And then the only thing to do was to wait to see who would show up. In the meantime, Fr. José called me, his former not-so-young adult seminary professor, asking if I would like to join the gang and propose some songs. His simplicity won me over immediately.
On that day people did show up, from the parish and outside the parish, people from very diverse backgrounds and parts of the world: Haiti, Peru, Columbia, Cuba, the Bahamas, Michigan.
Before getting into our kayaks, Father José offered a short welcome, a prayer and a few bold words: “How can we walk towards our destiny? Only by embracing the whole of our heart, in other words, by taking seriously the questions and desires that it harbors. Let’s try to pierce through the preconceived ideas and masks of who you think you are or should be. Allow your Creator to lead you towards him through this proposal and through the beauty of the sky, the river, and the faces of the people here with you right now.” Off we went, following the two instructors, now and then stopping for a short explanation about a particular river plant or the history of the city.
While sitting in our kayaks, we sang two songs that recall the beauty of nature and that remind us that only by belonging to a place, to a people, to a home, are we free: “I’ll go home to my Lord and be free” and “Country roads [in our case ‘river roads’!] take me home to the place I belong.” Fr. José launched an assignment for the second part of the tour: “Listen to your heart: it is the place of your needs and desires. The alternative is self-deception, following images that society tells you to long for. Therefore, a work of verification is needed: does this or that really correspond to my heart? What do I really want?” The tour went on, speckled with moments of silence and moments of conversation with one’s kayaking partner.
Upon arrival, a last song was sung, the Florida state hymn, “SwaneeRiver”: “All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam / O dear ones, how my heart grows weary, far from the old folks at home.” Fr. José spontaneously picked up on these words, saying, “Yes, our heart grows weary--and all that’s beautiful becomes a source of sadness--without a Presence that fulfills, without a home where I belong. Let’s continue to follow the signs of such a Presence.”
A bit tired, we ended up in a burger place, all sitting at a long table, eating, drinking and sharing pieces of our lives. Faces that at the beginning of the day were for the most part strange to one another were growing a bit more familiar. Passions and talents were expressed. “I love cooking,” Jenny exclaimed, “and I want to invite you all for a night of Italian food in my place!”
Walking back to our cars, content and opened up, conversations continued. I asked Camillo why he attended this gesture. “I did not come here for the kayaking in and of itself,” he said, “but for something more that I perceived somehow in Fr. José’s invitation.” “And did this ‘more’ happen?” I asked. “I could see it and now I want even more” was his answer.
Joep, Miami, FL