Jerry Earl Johnston: Old missions and modern temples are touchstones for travelers

Published: Wednesday, March 6 2013 5:05 a.m. MST

OAKLAND, Calif. — The old Catholic missions along the California coast are as lovely as astring of pearls. Early Franciscan missionaries built them “one day’s walk apart” from each other. That way, weary and hungry missionaries could find food and warmth after a long day’s journey on foot.

Today, in a kind of poetic convergence, temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also laid out along the California coast as well. Driving by the ocean, motorists can see the San Diego California Temple, then the Newport Beach California Temple, the temples in Los Angles and Oakland and — a bit inland — the temple in Sacramento.

Like the Franciscans of old, Latter-day Saints can move up the coast — through the rugged terrain and whirlwind of modern society — looking for a structure ahead of them that will offer a spiritual boost.

Early Christians in California had to focus more on food and safety as they traveled. Today, we have the luxury of being able to think more about the care and keeping of the spirit as we motor along.

It was one of the ancient Catholic Desert Fathers who said that looking for God, we are sometimes “like blind lions in the desert searching for water.”

In fact, my guess is most of us have spent a fair amount of time in that parched land, lost and alone.

Still, the message of those early missions and — to my mind — the modern placing of those coastline Mormon temples, resounds inside of us because they mirror our own lives.

Even when we feel worn-out and weak, we need to keep plugging along. Somewhere, up ahead, we can expect to find refuge. We’ll find the rest and refreshment we need. Up ahead, an outpost awaits us, a haven in the wild.

As Michael McLean would put it, “Hold on, the light will come.”

And so will the warmth, peace and joy.

For the early Franciscans, that peace and joy could be found in a fire burning in the hearth of an adobe mission.

For the modern LDS traveler, the glimpse of a temple after a white-knuckle trip on a California freeway is enough to cheer the spirit and rekindle the resolve to go on.

Most of us live our lives trudging through the dry patches, going from one oasis of spiritual sweetness to the next.

That, I believe, is why those early Catholic missions still resonate with us.

The journey up the coast symbolizes of our journey through life.

It’s also why those LDS temples may become touchstones in much the same way — touchstones of security and hope in a daunting landscape.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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