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Student Life
Chapel Talks

Pura Vida: You Can Take it with You!

By The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick, Lower School Chaplain

Luke 12: 13-21

Pura Vida! Pure life. This summer, I got to experience “pura vida” with my daughter in Costa Rica. When we first got there, I thought the phrase meant “the good life.” Having someone clean your hotel room twice a day. Having a breakfast buffet with every possible good food: papayas, pancakes, and gallo pinto. People said, “Pura vida” as we walked on the pristine white-sand beach and swam in the clear water of the Pacific. Costa Ricans said, “Pura vida” when they showed us rainforests teaming with life: plants, ferns, vines, howler monkeys leaping through the trees. My daughter woke up and said, “Pura vida! Costa Rica is magical.”

For me, the most exciting sign of abundant life was the sheer number and variety of seashells on our beach. “Playa Conchal,” where we were staying, means “shell beach.” I am a veteran shell-collector. Imagine my delight when I found a section of our beach covered in rare and beautiful seashells instead of sand. The first day, we picked up dozens and took them back to our room. By the third day, we had piles for friends and family; and a “rare find” pile of beautiful shells to keep for ourselves in a jar. We could bottle up “pura vida” and take it home.

As the trip went on, I began to learn from residents of Costa Rica that “pura vida” doesn’t just mean “the good life” of a tourist. It also means, “The simple life.” A life of humility and gratitude. One person explained, “We say, ‘pura vida’ not only when we are happy, but also when we are sad or disappointed—when life doesn’t go the way we think it will.” When things go wrong, you can say, “Pura vida” and release someone else from feeling bad. It shows a basic gratitude for the life you have been given, regardless of circumstances. “Pura vida” is a choice to be present and not too rushed, to keep perspective on what’s important—la familia, people, the earth, and our place in it.

Nowhere was this more apparent than on day four of our trip. A driver who had been friendly, letting me practice Spanish with him, picked us up from a river tour. He saw me holding a spiral turret shell. He said, “You can’t take that with you.” I asked, “What do you mean?” He insisted, “It belongs to the hermit crabs.” I shook the shell to show him nothing was inside. “Of course I wouldn’t take a shell with an animal it! It’s empty.” He said calmly, “But a crab might need it for a home later. Leave it.” A little miffed, I left the shell. When I got back to my room, I gazed at the table of shells and felt possessive. These were mine, right? Finders, keepers!

I flopped on my bed and googled “Seashells and Costa Rica.” “Don’t take the shells! It’s against the law!” I went to the concierge at our hotel and asked, “Are you allowed to take seashells home from this beach?” He said with a kind voice, “No. I can understand your desire to take them home. They are beautiful, but they are not ours. They belong here. If every one of the 2 million tourists who come to Costa Rica each year took even a handful of shells, they would all be gone. This beach used to be covered with seashells, but now only a small part is. We Ticos are not perfect. We harm the earth just like every human being, but we learn from an early age that we must take care of this beautiful land we’ve been given or it won’t stay that way. We even get a paid day as employees to clean up the land this hotel is on.” I promised him that we would return the shells to the ocean, and he smiled. “Pura vida! Thank you for asking—not everyone would.”

My daughter and I trudged sadly to the beach. We threw back the shells we didn’t care about first. That was easy. But we waited until the last night to throw back our favorite rare finds, hoping for a way to keep them for ourselves. But we decided in the end to honor the people and the land that we’d come to love. Pura vida. We kept the photos but let those beloved shells go back to the sea.

In the Bible, “pura vida,” is not a slogan. But people are obsessed with trying to bottle up “eternal life”—the abundant life they sense in Jesus. Time and time again, Jesus tells people that if they want to save their life, their own soul, they have to surrender it—lay it down. He insists, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10); but he warns that this life cannot be made safe by storing things up; ultimately, you can’t take it with you—as beautiful as they are, the material things of this life are not ours to keep. Jesus sums up, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed”—of grasping. In the end, even your body will not be yours to take with you.

But he has some good news for us about “eternal life.” You can take it with you. God wants to give us abundant life without end. Eternal life is a continuation of the abundant life we see around us in creation, in the life we’ve each been given to live, our own souls. “Eternal life” is not something to grasp at. It is to be received with open hands and hearts. The more we can let go and say “pura vida” instead of holding onto what we think is ours by right, the freer we are to experience the true abundant life that God offers.

So what does all this have to do with us at St. Albans in a new school year? Look around you at the abundance of beauty in this Cathedral. The stained glass, the sculptures, the select group of talented, smart students and loving, dedicated teachers you’ve been given to go through school with. You will have an abundance of good food to eat in the refectory. You will have more sports options than you can possibly enjoy. Let’s approach this year not trying to hold tight to what we’ve been given. Let’s keep our hands, minds, and spirits open to receive the life God wants to give us. That life can best be enjoyed when we are not in a hurry, when we are not grasping for specific grades or outcomes; when we are able to keep perspective on what’s most important—the people we’ve been given to serve and the creation we’ve been blessed to care for.

I pray that as a community, we can embrace this idea of “pura vida.” We do that when we compost or take only what we need at lunch; when we clean up after ourselves in the hallways to respect the Sodexo staff; when we hold lightly the idea of being “right” and are open to learning from people different from us. We will experience “pura vida” when we welcome 40 students from the Bishop Walker School to our campus in early October. We will experience it when we share what we have with families who are hungry or need clean water; when we are humble in taking care of the earth and clear about what is truly ours and what is not. Jesus teaches, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” This year, may we stop storing up treasures for ourselves and be rich toward God and others in all that we do. Pura vida! Amen.
Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.