Pura Vida!

Rev. Chris Jimmerson
July 23, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
austinuu.org

Costa Ricans use the phrase “pura vida” as a sort of all-purpose greeting, exclamation, or fond farewell. It literally means “pure life.” We explore its deeper meaning, and what it might be like to live pura vida.


I’d like to talk with you today about Hattie Ann Richardson, night rainbows and the Costa Rican national motto, “Pura Vida”.

Hattie Ann Richardson was my grandmother, who some of you have heard me talk about before because she and my grandfather played such important roles in my life. After my parents divorced, they helped to raise me.

Night rainbows are a natural phenomenon that I only recently came to know even exist and that I think may have taught me something about pura vida. More on this shortly.

My grandmother was somewhat introverted, yet she had this vibrancy, this loving nature – she loved life and she grabbed onto life and lived out loud.

She had this huge smile that could light up the night sky, and she freely and frequently flashed it upon those whom she loved, who were many.

I remember, even as small child, knowing that she loved me as fiercely as she did, made me feel worthy and full of possibilities in life.

She never got a driver’s license and never wanted to drive a car. She told me one time that by walking everywhere she went, she was able to see so much more of the life around her and she would miss that driving a car. So, if there was driving to be done, my grandfather, Leo, did it, with Hattie Ann providing navigation and occasional commentary on improvements to Leo’s driving that she thought he might want to consider.

She had this way of inspiring other people in her life to live more fully, and she had the most amazing green thumb of anyone I have ever encountered. It was as if she was somehow capable of infusing her vibrant love of life into other lives.

Her front porch and her yard were like a jungle of the various plants she so lovingly nurtured. She could take a cutting of just about anything and somehow get it to grow roots and grow into a new plant. Anytime we visited, she had to take us on a tour of all of her beautiful foliage. She had this dogwood tree she had transplanted as a small sapling into her yard that grew to be the size of a small oak tree. I’ve never seen another dogwood tree that big.

She had this calmness and gratitude for life about her that was contagious. When I was with her, it always felt as if my own life was more vivid and more filled with abundant love. That’s how she lived her life – with overflowing gratitude and love.

Even when I visited her when she was on home hospice care because of congestive heart failure, even in those last days, she still had that same loving nature and gratitude for life, though she was fully aware that her own life would soon slip away.

I can’t imagine it is possible for a human being to love another human being anymore than I loved Hattie Ann Richardson.

I found myself thinking about my grandmother a lot earlier this year, when my spouse Wayne and I spent a week traveling in Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans use this phrase, their national motto, “pura vida” a lot. Literally, it means “pure life”, but they also use it as a greeting, a farewell, to say “all is well”, to express gratitude, to complement one another and in many other ways.

More than that, pura vida seems to express a way of life, a love of life and gratitude for life that permeates the culture, such that the phrase “pure life” being so embedded in their every day language seems only natural. There is a sense of vibrancy and vitality but also a calmness and happiness exuded by the Costa Rican people and their culture.

The phrase likely entered the Costa Rican lexicon from a Mexican movie called “Pura vida” that came to the country in 1956. In this comedy, the main character kept repeating “pura vida. pura vida” so could manage to remain optimistic, despite unfortunate circumstances that were continually befalling him.

I played the slide show from Costa Rica as you came in earlier, because I wanted you to see that it is easy to imagine how this idea of pure life, of living with such gusto could easily take hold, living surrounded by such abundant life as exists in the rain and cloud forests of their country.

As Wayne and I walked amongst the giant trees, the beautiful flowering plants of their amazing forests, I could picture Hattie Ann trying to sneak cuttings so she could take them home and try to grow them in her yard.

I’ve thought about this phrase, “pura vida”, a lot since we visited Costa Rica. I have thought a lot about how we might live pura vida how do we grasp life and live it out loud? What did Hattie Ann know that allowed her to do so? How did pura vida become such a way of life for an entire culture that it is now actually their national motto?

And that’s where I think maybe night rainbows come into the picture.

For the last part of our trip, Wayne and I were staying in hotel that was located on a mountain high enough up that it was in the middle of cloud forest. Cloud forests are similar to rainforests, only in addition to having a lot of rain, they are high enough up that clouds often also cover the land even when it is not raining and provide even more moisture. Talk about abundant life and pura vida! It was breathtaking and just teaming with all kinds of life.

Our room was located near the top of the mountain, so when it was not raining or cloudy, we had this incredible view out over the surrounding landscape of Costa Rica and all the way out to the Pacific coastline.

Now, I love this church and this congregation, but I have a confession to make. This was right after the Trump inauguration, so I must admit that I was sorely tempted to contact the hotel owners and try to convince them that they needed to bring on an onsite chaplain. You know, someone who could do weddings and other services and provide pastoral counseling whenever the need came up for one of their guests. And I could do it would do it if they only provided ongoing room and board for two people.

While pondering this one evening, possibly after we had had a glass of wine or two.

I ultimately decided escapism wasn’t the answer and that we would have to return home and live out our religious values and principles here.

I went out onto the patio of our room. It had rained earlier in the day, but now the sky had cleared somewhat that night and a full moon was shining brightly. I looked up at sky and suddenly had trouble making sense of what I was seeing.

There was this arc in the night sky, shaped like a rainbow but in what appeared to my eyes to be shades of gray. I had never heard of there being such a thing as a night rainbow, so I was still having trouble grasping that I was really seeing this. I went and got Wayne to come see it so I could check Myself, and we ended up just standing there for a while in pure amazement, staring up at its spectacular beauty.

And life did seem to vibrate and become more filled with vitality.

Pura vida suddenly took on deeper meaning.

The next day, we did a search on the internet and learned that, while rare, with just the right conditions, lunar light can get reflected by moisture in the air and form a rainbow. If you take a picture of a night rainbow with a camera set to a very slow shutter speed, the colors of the rainbow will show up in the picture you get as result.

What a lovely metaphor for life’s possibilities – we get to have rainbows even at night. The colors of life are still there, even when we can’t see them sometimes.

So, pura vida is about accepting and embracing all of life, knowing that there is much that only sometimes comes into our awareness. Pura vida is about living fully into the beauty and the joy, while also letting ourselves fully experience the difficulties, the hurts and the sorrows.

Pura vida is about knowing that the beauty and the colors of life are there even during our times of struggle and heartache.

That’s what Hattie Ann knew. She could see the night rainbows.

Over the past months, I have had the honor and privilege to officiate for several memorial services at which I got to hear family members and loved ones tell the stories of some incredible folks, who had these amazing lives so well lived. People who had lived vibrant lives and reached for their full potential.

In every instance, it wasn’t so much what they had accomplished, though many of them were very accomplished. It wasn’t about their job or their car or their house or how much wealth they had.

It wasn’t that they were perfect or that they never made mistakes or never faced great challenges. It wasn’t that they never struggled, suffered or endured heartache. It wasn’t even about how long they had lived. One of them had died at a relatively young age but somehow managed to pack what seemed like several lifetimes into her short time in this world.

It was more about how they had lived. They had lived “pura vida”.

They took risks. They grabbed tightly onto life and rode its sometimes gentle, sometimes rapid, churning waters with great passion. They immersed themselves into cultures other than their own through traveling the world or finding those cultures within their own communities or both.

They learned to play a new musical instrument in the last years of their lives or took up a new creative art form or fell in love again all over agaIn.

They played and laughed with the abandon of young children. They loved largely and accepted being loved freely.

They felt it and experienced it all to the fullest – sorrow, joy, grief, beauty, disappointment, love, anger, exuberance and the many other feelings that occupy the full range of our human emotions.

I think sometimes we convince ourselves that trying to live this way is too hard because we don’t get to anesthetize the painful parts of life if we do live this way. And yet, this is the only way we get to experience the full beauty and vibrancy of life. This is the only way we get to experience pure life.

Pura vida. This is how we hold onto and experience the richness and fullness of life well lived, a life of loving and being loved, a life with a true and strong sense of grounding and belonging. This is how we learn to recognize and embrace all of the rich hues of life, even the not so apparent ones to be found in night rainbows.

Pura Vida – This is our spiritual journey.

And when we have gathered in community, it is our path toward nourishing souls and transforming lives, our own and those of others, including outside of these church walls.

Pura vida – it calls us toward justice because it is rooted in deep, abundant loving, and as Cornell West has said, “justice is what love looks like in public”.

Pura Vida, my beloveds, pura vida and amen.


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