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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.  


Chautauqua in the Summer

I have accepted an invitation to serve as Chaplain of the Chautauqua Institution from July 1 - 7, 2017 on their magnificent grounds at Chautauqua, New York.  This is a great privilege and I invite you to consider joining me at this important centre of faith, culture and education.  During this particular week there will be major theatre and opera presentation as well as a concert by a world renowned pianist.  Throughout each day there are opportunities to attend classes and lectures as well as to engage in numerous recreational activities.  To learn more about Chautauqua or to make reservations, please go to: www.ciweb.org  or to view a video that will give you a sense of Chautauqua go to: https://www.youtube.com/user/ciwebvideos

Grace and Peace

Peter


PRAYER FOR A DAUGHTER

PRAYER FOR A DAUGHTER

My daughter has gone to march today;
She's hitched a ride to the USA.
She may be wrong, she may be right,
It's not her country, but it is her fight.

My daughter has gone to march today;
I am on my knees and starting to pray.
Much could go wrong, friends have warned
God keep her safe as she nears the storm

My daughter has gone to march today;
Does it really matter what I might say?
She's heard a call from beyond the fray
To speak for justice come what may.

My sister has gone to march today,
Much older than just yesterday.
Once but a child and I a man,
And still we stand hand in hand.

My mother has gone to march today;
Much wiser than her yesterdays.
The child I held at her sweet birth,
Is now in step with Mother Earth.

Oh mother, daughter, sister, child,
Be careful in this world so wild!
Your father ever prayerful still
Blesses you to do God's will.
Peter Holmes 20-01-17

Eden From the Beach

In my youth I well remember picking up the odd glass ball as I walked on the beaches of Vancouver Island.  They were floats that had broken off Japanese fishing nets and followed the currents across the ocean until they washed up on the shores of the north Pacific coast.  We still have a few of them and prize them greatly if only for the memories they invoke.  These glass balls can transport your spirit back to the beach as easily as a seashell cupped to your ear.  

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Dale Chihuly grew up near Seattle, also on the same Salish Sea, and found similar glass balls from the same source along the beaches of Puget Sound, but he wasn't content to hang on to them as sentimental souvenirs to remind him of the places in his past.  Dale Chihuly allowed them to fuel his imagination and take him to a world of wonder and beauty.  He breathed new life into the old glass floats.  

Today marked the closing of the Dale Chihuly installation at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Some of the art critics poured cold water on the exhibit apparently hungry for more of an academic explanation for the meaning of the various pieces, but the public flocked to the show in record numbers and for good reason.  It was the essence of light in a world that can seem so dark.  It was creation in a world that often appears bent on destruction.  It was a triple rainbow of colour in a world where important things fade and so many other things are reduced to black and white.  

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I visited the show twice over its six months taking both my daughters and my wife and on the final exhibit was also joined by my dear friend, Corey Keeble, Curator Emeritus.  The first visit was during the sweltering heat of summer when the world outside was wilting and finding it hard to breath. On that day it was an Eden.  My second visit was on a frigid day in mid-December when it was just as hard to catch one's breath at street level, but upon entering the Chihuly exhibit it was as if I had arrived at Christmas a week early.  All at once the Chilhuly both took your breath away and yet gave you a second wind.  The exhibits dance with colours and shapes that emanate joy and love.  There was nothing religious about the show, but it works with light and is formed and shaped by the breath of the artist.  Another word for breath is spirit and this was a deeply spiritual show if you were willing to go there.

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

The Prayer for the Turning of the Year offered by Peter Holmes at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Watch Night, Dec. 31, 2016 as one year gave way to the next.  

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:  "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."  And he replied:  "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."  (Minnie Haskins)

Gracious and Eternal God, here we are at the gate of yet another year and we are here to say, 'thank you,' because your hand was better than light and safer than any way we knew.  And oh it was dark at times - there were calamities we did not see coming - and sometimes we let go of your hand, so sure we could do it on our own, but that is why we are here. Never did you leave us or forsake us and so now at the gate of a new year we pause to take your hand again.   

Oh God, thank you for staying with us through yet another year and for keeping us all on course as surely as you kept the earth in orbit round the sun.  Thank you for all the things that brought warmth to our hearts this year: evenings with loved ones warmed round a fire, sharing laughter with children, hearing a familiar melody for the first time all over again, and always for the breaking of bread.  Thank you for those 'I Do,' moments and the endearing and enduring convictions of the love that ages us like wine rendering our souls better with each passing year.  Thank you too for the first cries of newborns piercing the night announcing the end of labour's great pains and proclaiming that by your grace, life with all its blessings is here and now.  Pierce this night with the song of a child - the child who leads us in love to your eternal now.   

Thank you too for those we had to leave behind this year and for the faith that we will be together again.  Thank you too for new friends we met along the way.  And thank you day by day for hearing our prayers and answering them even when it was not the answer or the outcome we had hoped for.  Eternal God, you know best, for long ago and forever, you were already here just as you are there at the next gate waiting and watching, until that new day when the watch will end and the wait will be no more.  

O God there are some who find this gate hard.  Some bear fresh wounds, others have old bruises that seem slow to heal, and still others just can't let go of what was.  Bless them Lord that they might know how dear and wonderful they are now.  For those too fearful to hear even this we pray.  Reach out and take their hands as only you can. And for those whose homelands have been at war so long few know of anything but fear and strife we pray.  Oh God may peace break forth upon this world in 2017 like a summer's morn early and bright with an endless blessing of hopeful possibility in such a way that only the dark night and the cold fright are left behind. 

We thank you for the peace and prosperity of Canada as we enter this 150th year of confederation and we pray for all who lead and serve this nation and particularly for those who serve overseas to defend our freedoms. We pray that as neighbourhoods change and norms evolve we would warm all the more to the strangers at our door and the foreign ways of our new neighbours.  May this new year be marked by kindness and grace in all our communities and relationships.  

We pray too of your church here and all around the world that it might be a beacon of hope and grace in this world that one and all would know and embrace the good news that you so love this world that you gave us your Son, Jesus Christ, into whose scarred and sacred hands we place our trust for this year and this life and the life to come.  This we pray in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East."  (Minnie Haskins)


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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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