“…a rediscovery of the sacred in the immanent, the spiritual within the secular… it is our everyday world, not some other one, that, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘is charged with the grandeur of God.’”

~Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith


We had dodged the rain all day. Whenever it fell too hard, when it ran in rivers down my backpack and pulled my hair into flat, dripping slops, we would duck into a castle, eat at a ramen shop, jump onto a bus. It was a speed run through Japan, riding trains between towns and sleeping in parks, cramming as many sights and experiences into these few days as Calvin and I could afford. We barely had time to sleep.

We finished another castle tour and hurried to the twenty-five acre Kenroku-en Garden, which was not a garden with carrots and peas or scraggly flowers transplanted from plastic grocery store pots, but a four-hundred-year-old landscape garden that our map declared to be one of Japan’s most beautiful. We raced through the designed landscape, trying to see and remember everything. A pond and a fountain, stone lanterns and a plum grove. Trees bent and pulled into perfect arrangements by ropes and wooden crutches.

But as if vindictive, the rain caught up with us. Leaves trembled and the pond bubbled. Rain soaked my shirt at the shoulders, and it would have soaked farther if Calvin had not seen the teahouse. The teahouse hunched in the middle of the garden, and for three hundred yen, it offered green tea and a roof above us.

I discovered tranquility in that teahouse. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even recognize it at first, not until after we slipped off our shoes and backpacks and followed the woman inside, and not until after we padded across tatami floors to sit criss-cross in a plain room. Calvin and I could see the garden through a gap amid the paper walls, the garden gray and green and wet like Washington, but only a piece of it. A trickling waterfall. A few maple trees surrounded by moss. A silent heron standing in a pond, waiting. Waiting, or maybe just being as the rain splashed around him and on him.

I sipped my tea on the floor, sitting still for what felt like the first time since landing in Tokyo. I watched a motionless heron and listened to rain. I was stilled, and a little stunned, by the grandeur.

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