We started with church. I can think of no better way to keep the Sabbath. After having lunch with our friends, we drove out to Elbow Falls, about 45 minutes South and West of Calgary. The rugged beauty of the Elbow River as it races over the rocks is breathtaking. Tinted green by the glacial melt, this river is the water source for the city of Calgary. The falls is tiny in comparison to most others I have seen, and yet this place has a magnetism, and a peace that draws local people and tourists. The pathways are paved, with steps cut into the rocks. Here and there, along the river, families enjoyed a picnic. Tom and I walked along the railing and soaked up the Spirit that the river offered us.
We returned to Calgary for a late supper with our friends and then a neat card game before bed. We’ve had a grand day.
Over the whole day, we sold twelve books. It seems that most everyone we show them to wants to buy them. We have brought three hundred with us and they are going quickly. We are truly blessed.
We’re on the road again. Driving through the Rockies is amazing. We’ve seen a multitude of mountains on this journey, but these are unique. They’re more than just a lot higher. These mountains reach into the sky. The road at times is literally hanging off the edge of the mountain. I keep saying to Tom, “Look…” , followed immediately with “No, don’t look, keep your eyes on the road.” Around every corner is a glacial river, a mountain stream, a tiny waterfall sprouting out of the rock face. At one point, this morning, we went over a bridge from one mountain top to another. I feel as if our little Honda Fit is truly an airplane as we, literally, weave in and out of the clouds. This is like traveling through a Salvador Dali painting with clouds and trees and roads melting off the edge of mountains. Tom says the mountains are “savage” here. For me they are much too beautiful, overwhelming and holy, to be “savage”. They don’t hover or tower or menace. Their craggy rock faces and crowns point upward to God They stand straight and tall declaring their strength to the world.
Much of this trip from Golden to Banff is under construction. Now, that is savage. Dangling off the side of a mountain building a road requires tremendous fortitude. No amount of money would induce me to do it.
We stopped for coffee at Tim Horton’s. I stood at the back of a long line, Tom’s “Canadian Food Grains Bank” coffee cup in hand. A woman came up and touched my shoulder.
“You’re going to think this is crazy,” she said, “but I like your cup. My husband and I are supporters of the Food Grains Bank. We’ve grown grain for them.”
And so started a wonderful conversation. They are both pastors with the Mennonite church. He had been to Ethiopia and seen the grain delivered. In the end we exchanged business cards, sold two books and made a wonderful connection.
My books are a fabulous way to connect with strangers on a spiritual level.
It’s ten a.m. and we’ve reached the foothills. Calgary here we come.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Wednesday we started the day at bookstores. Koinonia in downtown Victoria bought some outright. That was great. We left samples at two other places. Because we don’t start out early, it was nearly two when we got to Butchardt Gardens. Just as in Cathedral Grove we were overwhelmed with the beauty. This place was very different. The hand of human beings was apparent everywhere as the gardens were beautifully landscaped and groomed. The colours were so vibrant that at times they didn’t seem real. Over and over again we said, “Look at that. Wow!” until we sounded like a broken record. We kept thinking about our children, grandchildren, friends and how much they too would enjoy being there with us. We’ve been away three weeks and we’re missing everyone even though we’re having a grand time. In the evening at the gardens, we enjoyed a live theatre production of dancing and singing. Every number was a love song. It was great too. We collapsed into bed in our motel at eleven p.m.
Thursday morning we returned to the two bookstores. Christian books and supplies took ten of each on consignment. The owner said they would pay the cost of any that weren’t sold. The store only took big name people and local authors. We had a lovely ferry ride and managed to sell two books on the way across. The scenery from the ferry was also fabulous. Then came the Vancouver traffic ordeal. We spent about three hours fighting traffic to leave books on consignment at the Seraphim book store. By the time we got to Merritt it was already 7:30 p.m. Time to stop for the night. We found a wonderful motel room – once again only $55. It had a stove and fridge and dishes, a living room and a bedroom. So we bought some groceries and had supper and breakfast at the motel.
Today, Friday, our trip through the mountains was breathtaking. All Canadians need to travel West at least once. It’s amazing. We got to Golden B.C. at 5:30 (had to set our clocks ahead an hour). We could see rain in the mountains ahead. I didn’t want Tom to drive on wet and maybe slippery mountain roads in the middle of a storm. Besides we were both tired of being in the car. We’ve had a lovely restful evening. Today we sold five books on route. There’s a bookstore in Merritt that carries my books now. We had a lovely visit with the minister of the United Church in Golden. Tomorrow it’s the Rockies and Calgary. Each day I say, “It can’t get better” and yet it does.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 Cathedral Grove
This morning after breakfast we traveled two hours north and west to Cathedral Grove Provincial Park on the Port Alberni Highway. Four hours round trip for one hour in the old growth forest seems a bit much, but it was worth every minute. We were welcomed into the Cathedral by a delightful volunteer who talked of the winter storm on New Year’s Day in 1997.
“The storm took down the biggest and oldest tree in this forest, a Douglas Fir,” she said. “The tallest tree still standing here is 76 meters. This one was taller. Walk along it’s length. See that the life cycle has begun again as trees are born from its rotting trunk and limbs. These will be stilt trees, their roots developing in the mother – nurse- tree as it slowly disintegrates leaving the roots above the ground.” We thanked her for the information and the map and started our journey.
Beckoning sunlight filtered through the trees, and danced ahead of us as we ambled down the pathway. We snapped pictures knowing our little camera couldn’t begin to capture the majesty of the scene. We walked along the trunk of the biggest tree and read “This tree is 800 years old. It had been growing here for 300 years when Christopher Columbus discovered America.
We stopped and climbed onto the trunk. At its widest we were more than seven feet above the ground. We leaned against the tree growing behind it and spread our arms. The picture shows that even Tom’s arms couldn’t cover one side of its trunk.
We continued walking, our necks craned to see the tops of the enormous tree. A peaceful coolness settled over us. This is truly holy ground, I thought. Just as we step out of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or the biggest of our Canadian churches, we stepped out of this natural cathedral. I took a deep breath, “Thank you God,” I whispered. ‘Thank you. My cup is full and overflowing with your abundant life and beauty. We are truly blessed to be on this wonderful journey.
Monday, August 17
All day, we sped along the highway between Kelowna and Vancouver, weaving our way between the mountains, spiraling up and then down again on roads built for cars traveling at 110 Km per hour. At just 100 kmph our little Honda Fit seems to be flying. I’m sure glad Tom willingly does the driving. As I looked down over the three foot concrete barriers into a valley several thousand feet below, I gave thanks that this morning I promised to do the driving on the prairies. Long and straight and level had to be easier. The car slowed to 75 kmph and was still climbing. At times I was sure we were heading for the top of the world. Reaching the summit of this mountain, we looked out over a vast ocean of trees. Here and there, scars created by clear cut logging marched across the landscape. I had felt anger when reading about clear cutting. Actually seeing the desecration brought shame, shame for my part in our consumer driven society.
The roller coaster ride continued through long skinny toothpick trees.At times I felt as if we were going to drive right off the edge of a mountain. “Check your gas,” the sign said. “The next community is 110 km.” Even today, habitation is sparse. My mind turned to our past. Imagine having the courage and determination to unite this beautiful, wild country of hours into one nation. Building the tracks on the edges of these mountains was an amazing feat. For a few moments I had a glimpse of the human cost, and human faith it took to build the railway tracks on the sides of these mountains. I can only imagine the joy and exhilaration the founding fathers felt when that last spike was driven and there was a transportation link from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
My thoughts were jerked back to the present as Tom applied the brakes and geared down. “It’s an eight percent grade,” he said.
I closed my eyes and prayed.
“Look,” there’s a snowshed,” he said, and took one hand off the wheel to point.
I dragged my eyes from the road to look ahead. It’s a tunnel, I thought, as we entered the darkness. The mountain is flowing down over us.
Back out in the sunlight, I saw the run away lanes – roads leading off to the right and almost straight up the mountain. I took a deep breath as a huge transport pulled alongside and then past. My ears were popping when we finally leveled out. Before I could unclench my hands and relax my knees we had started up again. Good thing we didn’t bring the trailer, flashed through my mind. Our little truck would never have done it.
The day wore on as we flew through the beauty of towering mountains, and deep rock cuts. Finally, the ground began to level out. The coastal plain and Vancouver welcomed us. It was just three o’clock when we approached the ferry dock. Traffic surrounded us and stopped. A man wearing a reflector vest and a big smile, leaned into the car window.
“Got a reservation?”
In all innocence Tom shook his head.
“When the traffic starts up move into the left lane. You’ll probably make the 5:20 or the 6:00,” he said and waved his hand.
Groaning, we did as were told.
“Oh well,” I said. “We’ll just go straight to our motel. Let’s eat on the ferry.”
We had a long wait and we had time with friendly people. I sold a copy of my book, Can I Hold Him? And gave a couple of people my business card.
The ferry ride was magical. The food was great.
By 7:15 we were once again rolling down the highway. The road still twisted and turned but the mountains had turned into hills. The sun was just setting when we pulled into our motel, a secluded collection of cottages tucked away in the woods. We had booked two nights on the internet, on the description and mostly the price – $62.50 a night.
It’s just fine. Friendly people, very clean and even well-functioning wireless. What more could we ask? It’s time to settle down for a good night’s sleep.
August 16 It is finished. Yes, General Council is over, and I am exhausted. It’s been absolutely awesome. For seven days we have flown on God’s Spirit, as we worked long hours, worshipped together and even played occasionally. One of the highlights for me came Saturday when we discussed the Saskatchewan proposal suggesting we shift the twenty articles of faith that were set out in 1926 to the status of historical document. I expected hours of heated debate and even anger. Instead, Rev. Dr. John Young, professor at Queen’s Theological College, suggested we add the statement of faith made in the1940’s, the New Creed from the 1960’s, and our most recent document A Song of Faith to the twenty articles. Each one is an expression of faith for the time in which it was written. Each one carries our story. The commissioners received this suggestion with joy. It allowed us to be inclusive of the broad spectrum of beliefs that are held by our United Church members.
Yesterday, goodbyes were tearful, especially for the teens. “I’ve made some really good friends,” one young man said to me. “I sure hope that I will keep them.” Another teen responded, “We have lots of friends on the internet but they don’t seem as close as the friends we’ve made here. This has been really special.”
This week, I glimpsed the church as God intends it to be – warm, loving, accepting people, enthusiastic about their faith. Love and respect for all people opened us to transformation by our encounters with God in the people around us.
As we worked together we practiced giving, not just emotionally but also concretely. Through joyful requests, our teens gathered over $13,000 from us, for the solar water heater at the Naramata Camp and Conference Centre. “These kids can certainly give us lessons in fund raising,” one Commissioner commented.
Our meeting started with a young mom, her eight week old baby asleep in her arms saying, “I’ve worked on this conference for three years. I want baby Nicholas to be here. With your help I will do my best to fulfill my role as chair of business and agenda.” Yesterday as we said good bye she thanked us for our enthusiastic help. We received her work as a job well done, and learned that the You Tube video clip of “Baby in Council” had received the most hits.
We human beings, with all our flaws and fears, can truly follow Jesus’ teaching to love God and love one another. For one whole week, we lived it. I am truly grateful for the experience.
Go to the United Church website at www.united-church.ca for all the details.
Wednesday August 12th – “The Half-Way Mark” (366 words)
The United Church is becoming an intra-cultural church. We are striving to step beyond tolerating others who are different. At this meeting of General Council we are walking with and learning from our Christian brothers and sisters – French, Japanese, Korean, African and more. In 1926, three Protestant denominations came together to form a new, stronger, richer and fuller being called the United Church. Today as a church we are working toward that kind of transformation.
This week enjoyed the rhythm and beauty of many languages as we have worshipped and done our work. Symbols and traditions from other cultures have enriched our understanding. We have embraced our brothers and sisters in the faith with joy. We are learning to be a church in which we truly value, respect and welcome all people.
And there is more. We have incorporated what is called green culture. Gone are the endless paper plates and Styrofoam cups. We carry our own water bottles to taps and jugs to be refilled with local water. The trash cans at UBC are not overflowing because most of what we use is recycled. We share print resources in order to save paper. We’re truly conscious of what we use.
The youth at General Council are leading us. Tuesday, they were an integral part of the discussion about our church’s position on the Israeli/Palestine conflict. This was their message to us. “I’ve been to Palestine. I’ve seen the poverty, the oppression. That wall has six hundred stops. By the time a poor farmer going to market gets through them his fresh fruit has rotted in the cart. We have to use more than words to express our horror at what is happening to the Palestinian people. It was a United Church program that sent me to Palestine to see what was happening. Listen to us.”
Monday morning we sang, “I Am a Child of God”. The words of that song declare the wonder and beauty and confidence of knowing and living the acceptance that Jesus taught. The United Church has stepped beyond having youth and people of other races as tokens among us. They are transforming us. I am grateful.
“Down to the Potter’s House”
“God is good,” shouted Right Rev. David Giuliani into the microphone.
“all the time,” responded the more than six hundred committed, passionate people of faith who filled the gymnasium at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna.
“All the time,” shouted Right Rev. David Giuliani.
“God is good,” responded the people.
Thus, began the first day of the fortieth meeting of the General Council of the United Church of Canada.
That same spontaneous energy -God’s Spirit – surrounded me all day. Signs of a healthy faithful church were everywhere, from the enthusiastic happy faces of the young people to music that called us to sing and dance to walls decorated with hundreds of prayer flags made by congregations from across our country. It’s been an amazing day.
We worshipped as two potters worked with clay on their potter’s wheels. “Working with clay is messy,” our Moderator said. “The potter kneads the clay to work out the memory of the shape the clay has been. Once centered, the wheel begins to turn, and the potter’s hands gently and carefully push and scrape to mold something new and exciting. During this time together, God the potter will be working with us, kneading us to help us let go of the past, and centering us in faith in order to bring forth from us something new and exciting.”
The sunny yellow shirts and happy smiles of the local volunteers who care for us were everywhere. We heard the drums of the local native people who welcomed us as partners in our love for God’s creation.
Lively discussion as we set the agenda, told me that change will be painful. We are a church, alive and healthy, that will make decisions cautiously and carefully. We have solid roots and strong faith, and still change brings fear.
I looked at nine week old Nicholas, asleep in his mother’s arms, heard the youth commissioner at our table speak of God’s call to him to be here, and took a deep breath. This will be work, and this will be fun.
Tonight I am thankful for the privilege of being here.
Can I Hold Him? Christmas Stories for All Ages
Table of Contents
1. Isn’t He Beautiful! 2. I’m An Angel 3. Can I Hold Him
4. That’s Not Your Baby! 5. The Last Shall Be First
6. The Reluctant Shepherd 7. The Third Wiseman
8. A Life Completed 9. The Refugees
10. An Ancient Love Story 11. Santa’s Story
Can I Hold Him? has many uses:
Read it at home as part of your Christmas preparations.
Give it as a gift of faith to a friend or neighbor or grandchild.
Use it with your Sunday School Class as part of the lesson or as a resource for writing a skit.
Use it with adults and children as a resource for Christmas Programs and Christmas Eve worship