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"Deep Calls to Deep..."

BlogEugenia1.JPG"Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts..." (Psalm 42:7).  
It wasn't the first time we had been to either Eugenia Falls or Hoggs Falls, but never before had we hiked the section of the Bruce Trail that joins the two. At this time of year Eugenia Falls is like a little Niagara as it cascades beautifully over the same escarpment as does Niagara Falls, but nearly 500 kilometres up trail. Eugenia's is a thirty metre drop into the canyon below is but a hint of the falls at Niagara and certainly in its width Eugenia is but a tiny fraction. Yet it is so picturesque and especially in the spring when the volume of water puts on a spectacular show. Hoggs Falls drops only about twenty-five feet, but it too is beautiful and the sound and spray refreshing after a hike on a warm day. BloggHoggs1.JPG t was a nice way to end our four days of hiking on the Bruce Trail. Like comparing these two small falls with Niagara Falls, our hikes were but a small fraction of the full trail. So to say I have hiked the Bruce Trail, or I know the trail, is far from adequate, because it is all so much bigger, yet, I have had a taste and it is good. Here's the thing, the same water that we saw and heard pouring over the escarpment and down into the depths below will one day fall over the same escarpment all over again without ever climbing an inch. Truly it will travel down the Beaver River and out into Georgian Bay and on to Lake Huron and then down the St. Clair River and eventually into Lake Erie and down the Niagara and over the same escarpment all over again. Eugenia and Hoggs are rehearsals for something so much greater. I believe every day is a rehearsal for something greater - so much greater. It really is deep calling to deep. I hear it calling me back to the trail, but what's more, I hear it calling me to venture on in love and faith.

Comfort Ye My People

BlogQuilts1.JPGComfort ye my people! On a damp cold day we followed a sign on the street inviting passersby into an annual quilt show, taking place in the local United Church. I assumed I was simply following my wife's curiosity about local crafts into a church basement for fifteen or twenty minutes. But there was no going downstairs and we lost all sense of time. BlogQuilts2.JPG These beautifully crafted quilts were appropriately displayed in the Sanctuary, draped from above and beneath the balcony, between pews, and all around the chancel. The colour, detail, creativity and design brought warmth and beauty in abundance to a wonderful sacred space. The quilts were a reminder of the church at its best - seemingly scrap materiel of various sizes, shapes and colours sewn together as one in a beautiful pattern by the hand of a loving creator redeemer. The only thing warmer than the quilts was the welcome of the United Church Women and the members of the local quilter's guild. Comforters indeed!

An Easter Detour

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I have very fond memories of Frank Rice. On another detour from the trail we visited his grave where I had conducted the interment of his remains more than twenty years ago. When I was young and he was old, or at least what seemed old at the time, we'd served together at Blythwood Road. Before that he too had been on the pastoral team of Yorkminster Park. We covered a lot of the same territory though forty years apart. As we stood in silence at his grave I remembered him telling stories with warmth and wit. And what tales Frank had to tell. He was the son of missionaries and had been to McMaster in an earlier era after which he had served churches in Ottawa and Toronto and other spots. He'd been the President of our denomination and had been a leader in the early days of Camp Kwasind. There was so much wisdom in those anecdotes of his. I find it sad to think of Frank and others like him, true saints who along with their stories seem all but forgotten. But today I felt his smile and heard his laughter. There is one who remembers us! Easter week is a good week to visit the graves of our true saints, because they really are smiling.

Earth Day on the Bruce Trail

BlogBruceED3.jpgDear Mother Earth who day by day,
unfoldest blessings on our way... 
We were with Caitlin and back on the Bruce Trail on Earth Day following the signs that led us up and down through the forest on the westside of the Beaver Valley. We heard it first and then came across a stream at least seven or eight feet wide that thundered down the steep embankment in a mad rapid rush. There would be no crossing this river on an April afternoon especially after all the rain of prior days. However, the trail led us back up the escarpment where we assumed we would find a bridge, but instead were amazed to discover a spot where white water simply burst from the side of the mountain at least a hundred meters below the escarpment ridge. Before the afternoon was over we traced four such streams to mouths in the mountainside.  
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for Thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia, alleluia!
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Salvation on Yonge St.

BlogSalvationfilm.jpgSomeone's been given the task of telling the story of salvation on Yonge St. While out on a walk today I came across a film shoot in progress and when I asked what was being filmed, they told me it is the pilot for a new CBS television series called, 'Salvation.' The crew were excited and went on to tell me it's an amazing story. Turns out it is about a grad student and a tech superstar who inform the Pentagon of their staggering discovery that an asteroid is six months away from colliding with Planet Earth.  
Yes, someone has been given the task of telling the story of salvation on Yonge St. and it is indeed an amazing story about a heavenly body that collided with life on this planet. The task is ours and I pray we always sound as excited in the telling as did the film crew down the street.

Entertaining Angels Unaware

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The gift of hospitality is beautiful.  The writer to the Hebrews wrote, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unaware."  I have now seen this with my own eyes and can attest that it is true.  A few months ago information came from a staff member of our Baptist denomination stating that a First Nations woman from Northern Ontario would be arriving in town to be a witness in the class action Sixties Scoop Case and along with her husband was in need of some hospitality as the city was a foreign place to her.  We were told that she teaches in the Sunday School of the Baptist church in Kirkland Lake.  

I am embarrassed to say I knew very little about the Sixties Scoop Case, and neither did I know her church or pastor.  She was coming to us as a stranger and would be arriving in the city along with her husband in a matter of days.  But as soon as the need was known, the Chair of the Board of Mission and her husband showed true leadership opening their home without hesitation to this Ojibway woman.  Since the moment they opened their door, Mel and Elaine Snider have been in Marcia's corner.  For not only was their home open, but also their minds and hearts and now they have truly been blessed by the presence of angels.

Marcia was one of 16,000 Ontario children scooped up off the reserves at a very young age by the Government of Canada and parachuted into foster homes far away where they were completely severed from their family, tribe, language and culture.  After fourteen years in the wilderness of a 'civilized' world, she was finally able to return to her family and tribe at the age of 18.  In those fourteen years she was a victim of suffering and abuse.  But today at 53 years of age, Marcia Brown Martel is the Chief of the Beaverhouse First Nation on the banks of the Misema River.  

Throughout the trial, Marcia has been the chief witness offering stellar testimony.  I am sure she was chosen for this role because above all she is a woman of faith and grace.  Mel and Elaine have invited Janet and me into their home to meet Marcia and Raymond and to pray with them.  It has been a remarkable privilege to meet her and to pray for and with her along the way, for rarely in my life have I seen such grace.  She could be so angry and bitter but there doesn't seem to be a trace of it in her.  In fact she has said to me, "What's the point of that?"  Forgiveness and love flow from this woman. 

On Tuesday she and the 16,000 other Sixties Scoop Victims were vindicated by the courts.  In her mind it was just common sense at last prevailing.  For as she would put it, "Who could truly believe that children should be stolen from their parents?  One day someone somewhere would say this was wrong."  

I offered her my congratulations on Tuesday evening at the home of Mel and Elaine.  "This is a great day for you," I said. "This is a great day for Canada," she replied.  She was right.  For on Tuesday justice prevailed.  She had her day in court and the courts work.  A great day for Canada indeed!  

One of the joys for Mel and Elaine has been to hear Marcia playing her drum on their back porch as she communes with God. Mel and Elaine won't bang their own drum, so I am telling this story.  Elaine was in the front row of the court seated between Marcia's lawyer and her husband when the verdict was read on Tuesday.  Marcia has also invited Elaine to sit with her through interviews with the press.  And as Elaine's grandchildren have been learning about this case in school they've taken pride in the thought of their grandparents sharing a front row seat in the unfolding history of Canada. 

One evening we showed Marcia and Raymond the church and she asked if she could sing from the chancel.  It was beautiful - an angel's voice to be sure.  I tell this story so you too will know it is true that by offering hospitality to strangers some have been known to entertain Marcias without knowing it.  God bless Mel and Elaine and God bless Marcia and Raymond.  

A Prayer for our Firefighters

A six alarm fire destroyed a wonderful old club down the road from the church on Tuesday.  The fire raged from mid morning through the night and even two days later there are apparently hotspots still being watched.  They say it was one of Toronto's biggest fires in recent memory and I believe it.  

Throughout the day on Tuesday both Yonge and St. Clair were closed for blocks going in all directions as close to forty fire trucks and a hundred and fifty firefighters fought the blaze.  Ladders were raised high above some of the trucks to bring the water down from above while many of the trucks were stretched out down the street about a hose length apart to bring water from more distant fire hydrants.  On the south side hoses came up through the staircases, down condo corridors and eventually out to the balconies where firefighters pointed them straight down into the flames.  Apart from the wonderful courage of the firefighters the scene was an incredible lesson in team work.  

At the end of the day no lives were lost.  However, the Badminton and Raquet Club, which was probably one of the only buildings in the Yonge and St. Clair community to pre-date Yorkminster Park, has been completely destroyed.  I never belonged to the club, but I have fond memories of sharing lunches and dinners in the company of friends and even the occasional wedding or funeral reception.  It was a warm and inviting space and while we all hope it comes back, the community lost a special building on Tuesday. 

However, today there is reason to step back and take a deep breath and give thanks.  I offer this prayer for our firefighters.   

Gracious and eternal God, after the earthquake, wind and fire, you speak to us in a still small voice of calm.  We thank you that even in the face of a wind fed fire you brought calm to the hearts and minds of those who risked their lives to fight the flames at Yonge and St. Clair this week.  We thank you that at the end of the day all were safe and accounted for and no lives were lost.  We thank you for the courage and expertise of those who have heeded the call of public service to protect us all from raging infernos.  We thank you too that the fire did not spread as it might have and so we pray for your continued protection on our city's firefighters and save us all from the flames that burn.  Suddenly we have been sobered by how quickly a fire can spread, damage and destroy.  Grant us all wisdom in the living of our days for we know not what a day may bring.  But You O God promise to be with us always.  Come what may, help us all to trust in you.  Amen.  


Cardinal Virtues

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The Northern Cardinal stands out in my garden even in the midst of summer's flowers, but against the white backdrop of winter the brilliant colour of this bird will stop you in your tracks.  The Europeans who named it upon their arrival in the Americas did so because of the similarity of its colour to the vestments of Rome's senior clergy, but it was only in 2016 that another clue towards the bird's true claim on holiness was discovered.  

Last year an Emory University study was released which identified the Northern Cardinal as a supersuppresser of the West Nile Virus.  It seems a cardinal can absorb countless infection ridden mosquito bites without becoming infected or passing on the infection.  The presence of this bird in the urban forests helps protect us from this debilitating virus.   

As followers of Christ we too should be supersuppressers.  We should be able to absorb gossip and unfair criticism of others without having our opinions of them affected and without ever giving into the urge to pass it on and infect others.  When we are as saintly as the bird, not even winter can remove us from the wonder of summer, nor hate suppress the victory of love.   Often in the summer before I even see the bird, it is the cardinal's song which penetrates the ambient noise of the city with a long true note.  In the winter of this world let us offer nothing less than the true note of love and kindness.   


Grace & Peace,

Peter 

A Prayer on the Morning After Deadly Gunfire At A Quebec Mosque

Gracious and merciful God our nation has been silenced by the horror of gunfire in a place of prayer.  We cannot imagine who could do this or why, but we do know what it is to gather in openness to pray in peace. Six have died and so much else seems to hang in the balance, and so we vow to continue to gather to pray and we refuse to let fear rule the day.  We are angry at this violation of the sanctity of life and of the sacred nature of a space consecrated to your glory, but you alone can harness our anger and turn it to good, so we give it to you.  

O God, may these bereaved Quebec families, the global family of Islam and the whole family of humankind, know that all people of true faith, feel violated this day, and that the citizenry of Canada shares in the sorrow of the victim's families.  Together we pray for peace. 

We pray too for the hospitalized victims still fighting for life.  Bring them to a place of full recovery.  We pray for the men, women and children who were in the mosque and survived the attack but now live with grief, fear and shock.  May they find healing, comfort and peace.  We pray for those who died with their eyes closed in prayer and their arms outstretched to you.  Hear the longing of their hearts for you, and hear the sorrow of people of all faiths identifying with their posture of prayer.   

O God, keep our mosques and synagogues, churches and temples safe and at peace and keep our hearts focused on love.  Protect the people of our land at prayer and at play, at work and at leisure from the senselessness of hatred and violence, and especially protect our children.   

We dare to pray too for our enemies, for you taught us so to do.  We pray for the cold blooded killer or killers and any who sympathize with their deed.  Open their eyes and hearts to see the evil they embrace and enable them to turn from it.  We especially pray for their families whose grief and sorrow too must be immeasurable this day.  

There is yet so much we don't know, O God, but you know.  And so we thank you for your great patience with this planet.   When all seems lost help us to see that you have taken the dust upon yourself that it might not settle on us and that death might not swallow us up.  For this and all your blessings we give you thanks.  

O God, heal this broken family of nations, this world of fractured religions and tribes. Raise us up to new life by your Spirit, write love upon the hearts of all people and fill our minds with the knowledge of your goodness and grace that true faith would unite us in our desire to do your will to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the sorrowing, make peace, and turn the weaponry of war towards peaceful productivity for all people, that who we are might bring honour to your sacred name in which we pray, One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(Offered by Rev. Dr. J. Peter Holmes - Jan 30, 2017) 

Let's Talk & Let's Pray

I am so grateful for Wednesday's 'Let's Talk,' campaign to encourage us all to remove whatever stigma we attach to mental illness, and to help those who suffer.  For too long it is something many have been afraid to speak of and there has been an unfair burden of shame associated with it.  There may have been an assumption that those who suffer in this way are weak of character or unfit for a position in the workplace. Such assumptions are so damaging and unfair and the sooner we lose them the better.  

Mental illness has touched most of our families yet we have not wanted to speak of it, perhaps in part to protect those who suffer, or perhaps also for fear people might think it is in our genes or blood.  However, as we talk about it, we soon discover it hits close to home for almost all of us.  So let's completely remove whatever stigma remains and get on with caring.  But we must keep talking and listening and loving and praying. I offer the following prayer in the hope it might help others to pray.  

Gracious and Merciful God, we give you thanks for our life as human beings on this magnificent earth and in this vast universe.  There is so much that is beyond our knowing and thinking, but in your wisdom you have given us our minds with which to think deeply and clearly about all manner of things. This gift enables us  to solve mathematical problems, to compose musical symphonies and to discern truth.  Thank you for the gift of our minds and help us to use them to first love you and second love our neighbour as we love ourselves.  

We pray too, O God, for all who struggle with mental illness.  Help us to love them with our whole being and to engage our minds and hearts towards a greater understanding of and healing for all who struggle with this burden.  We thank you for families and friends who go the distance to care for those who suffer, even when the answers are few and the hope small.  May their love  bring peace to those for whom they care.  We pray for communities like the House of Compassion and CAMH and all who work and serve in countless agencies and clinics.  Continue to grant them wisdom and clarity and hearts of love.  

We thank you too for the profound courage and faith of those who live and struggle with mental illness.  Remove the obstacles from the minds of those who are well that they might see the uniqueness and beauty and enormous potential of all who suffer.   Above all, O God, we thank you for your presence in Jesus who refused to attach stigma to any who suffered, and whose power and love continues to bring liberation and hope.  May his mind live in us all that we might be faithful instruments of your peace.   Amen.  


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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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