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The Nooksack River

Nooksack River in 1976

The Nooksack River drains from near the top of Mt. Baker into the Pacific Ocean in northwest Washington State. This is the river that overflowed its banks a few weeks back and flooded the sumac prairie between Abbotsford and Chilliwack B.C.. It did it again yesterday.

Back in the 70s when I was living in Vancouver, we would occasionally ski at Mt. Baker. I remember the surprisingly flat plain driving south from Abbotsford, BC to Sumas, WA. I have fond memories of the beautiful, rugged and majestic terrain in this area. In the summer we would go camping in the same Cascades mountain range. I recall I was camping near the Nooksack when Mt. St. Helens blew up at precisely 8:32 AM on May 18, 1980. Although some 300 km to the SE. we heard the bang, if groggily.

Mt Baker is visible from Vancouver, accentuated here by telephoto lens.

As you drive south and east into Washington, the plain soon ends and the climb to Mt. Baker (elev. 10, 787 ft.) begins. We used to stop at a great pub in Glacier, WA just before the climb. It was an eclectic spot with milk cans, an old ringer washing machine, a pool table, crab traps and great Olympia, Kokanee and Fosters beer I recall. It is still there known as the Chair 9 now but less eclectic I imagine. Of course we would have to stop there on the way back down too.

Back to the Nooksack. As you drive up the Mt. Baker highway you notice this river on the left in a deep gulley. It is wild water for sure before it empties out onto the flat plain below Apparently the river used to flow north into Sumas Lake before the lake was drained almost exactly 100 years ago. It was diverted westward at the time according to this recent article. Nature has prevailed as the river is now flowing northward again during the heavy rains.

Some of my historical Nooksack area pics taken in the late 1970s.

Fond memories. Now praying that all of the BC flood affected farmers and residents will soon be able to return safely to their properties with minimal additional damage and that their animals can be saved too.

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Eagles Nest

Back behind Calabogie Ski Hill nearby is a series of hiking trails on Manitou Mountain. Recently we hiked to the popular Eagles Nest lookout on a sunny fall day. We took our lunch and hiking poles and headed up from the parking lot which was almost full when we arrived. We had chosen the day spontaneously but carefully, hoping to avoid the large crowd which tends to gather there. It was later in the season this year.

It’s a gentle 30 min hike up a rocky trail. Usually there are families, couples with dogs, groups of young men and women on the trail. We hear many different languages being spoken – the diversity of the people attracted here is truly amazing. Everyone loves the Canadian outdoors, especially when the fall colours are out. This time the trail is much quieter.

Reaching the lookout we begin to hear the familiar voices – kids chattering, teenagers laughing, a babble of different languages. Oh well we too are here and join in admiring the amazing view looking north over the forested hills.

This year we decide not to linger with the crowd but decide to continue farther along the trail. Not too far along we noticed a leafy side trail leading up a small hill. We follow it.

In a few minutes we spot a tranquil pond with an overlooking rock face perched right beside it. Ah, hah, our private lunch destination!

It was so peaceful and quiet there. Truly a magical place. We will be back next year…if we remember where it is and the Gitchie Manitou wills it!

Miigwech!

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The 40 Thousand Mile Man – Odyssey of a Pilgrim

This is an unusual story about an unusual man. George Florian Walter celebrated his Catholic faith by walking the world from 1970 to 2013. He renounced all his possessions (see LK 14:33), left his father and mother (see MT 19:29), denied himself, and took up his cross (see LK 9:23). The book recounts what led him to do this, where he walked and how he did it. He is a one man religious order – the Order of the Pilgrim.

Growing up in the Pittsburg, PA area he had a Catholic education followed by 4 years of study in the seminary to become a priest. On completion, he decided he could not be ordained as a priest because his faith was not strong enough. He had extensive book knowledge but no personal knowledge of God. A few years later, he came upon his vocation as pilgrim after three steps:

  • he realized God created him and loved him unconditionally (while in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado)
  • he discovered Jesus was with him always and that he is never alone (while on the Camino de Santiago in Spain)
  • receiving the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy (while at a Charismatic Renewal prayer seminar in Pennsylvania)

He also cites as inspirational The Way of the Pilgrim written by an anonymous 19th century Russian peasant who learns to pray the Jesus Prayer continously as he walks across Russia.

With this foundation in place he decided to focus on eschatological issues. i.e., those relating to death, judgement and final destiny of the soul and humankind. God owns me, Walter thought, so I must journey back to him. There is no point in collecting possessions, money, status, relationships along the way because all these are passing and will be lost at death, he concluded. So he gave away his possessions, said goodbye to family and friends and walked 40,000 miles over the next 43 years lifting up the cross of Jesus Christ and being a witness to the world.

He travelled with only a change of clothes, a plastic sheet, a staff, a bible and an icon of the Virgin Mary, no money, no food. He slept mostly outside and relied on donations of food and water and occasional shelter. He walked by the side of the road through 41 countries. He visited some places familiar to me such as the Shrine of the Canadian Martyrs in Midland, ON, Madonna House in Combermere, ON, Anchorage, AK, Rome, Paris and Jerusalem. In one of his longest hikes, he walked from Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico, to California, to Alaska, across Siberia, through Kazakstan and on to SW India over a 7 year period.

During winters he would ensconce himself in a poustinia, often a small storage room spending 4 days a week meditating, praying and reading. The other 3 days he worked in a parish or monastery to earn his keep. Watch the short interview below while he was in poustinia.

Pilgrim George experienced many challenges and persecution. His father could not accept his choice of vocation for the first 20 years. He was stoned by Muslim children in Turkey, beaten over the head with his staff in California and wrestled to the ground by robbers in Kazakstan. Getting visas to enter particular countries for extended periods of time was a real challenge for someone with no money or fixed address. Understanding the language or maps was a problem. However he had many passers by give him donations of food and water, offer him a lift, invite him into their house and the strong support of his mother and home Bishop. He said he never went hungry.

In the last chapter of the book, George recounts some lessons learned and observations on his pilgrim life. For example he came not to expect hospitality from religious people or groups. Churches, schools and rectories have insurance policies in place that trump hospitality. Nor could he expect hospitality from daily Mass goers whom he had just been united with who after Mass, would just walk out with not so much as a word of welcome, a who are you or would you like a drink of water? Most of his hospitality came from unchurched people and in poorer countries. Going to church does not automatically make someone a more loving person. Often it was young mothers with children in car seats who stopped to offer him a ride. This went against every natural instinct of concern for human safety and often their husband’s specific directions, notes George.

There is so much more fruit in this book. I will sign off here with a 5 star rating for content, meaning and interest. May God Bless you pilgrim George.

(Surprisingly I found this book at my local library. For further information search on YouTube to find several longer interviews of Pilgrim George.)

Pilgrim George working on his sandals that used truck tire treads he found along the side of the road

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Kendaasawin

We have just returned from an inaugural cross-cultural and transformative learning experience at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior, Ontario. It was called Kendaasawin (kenDAWsawin) – how we learn who we are – using teachings on life’s stages and a learning circle where each person shares. It was organized by the Kateri Native Ministry of Ottawa.

The sacred fire was tended to all weekend

Knowledge keeper elder John Rice from Parry Sound, ON provided the bulk of the teachings and had us in stitches many times with his humorous stories about the stages of our life journey and respect for the land, our ancestors and ourselves. There was much coversation, music, singing, drumming and group dancing. Galilee provided superb hospitality. We had a wonderful closing Eucharist celebrated by both diocesan and religious RC priests.

The group was very diverse – young people, not so young people, indigenous and non-indigenous, male/female, extroverted/introverted. clergy and lay people. The event was over subscribed and several people were turned away.

We learned some words in Ojibway – miigwich gitchi-manitoo – thank you great spirit. We relearned that our ancestors as well as our parents have helped shape who we are. We experienced the power and emotion of the indigenous learning circle, an experience we do not use use as often in non-indigenous learning events. We discovered that we are all the same – indigenous/non indigenous. Wow, what a gift!

It was a small step toward reconciliation, something concrete in learning more about indigenous culture and spirituality. Thank you Donna Naughton of Kateri Native Ministries, John Rice of Feather Keepers: Leadership for Life Promotion, Gerry Kelly of Galilee Centre as well as the others who helped make this a special and memorable learning experience on the road to healing and reconciliation.

If you are interested here is a link to the Miikaans Teachings that elder John took us through: https://wisepractices.ca/practices/feather-carriers/#fvp_Miikaans-Intro-Low250,3s

Next event on our reconciliation learning journey is online on Oct 31: Healing in All Directions: Stories of Reconciliation with Sr. Eva Solomon, CSJ

Happy Thanksgiving! Minawaanigwad miigwechiwi-giizhigad!

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The Importance of Mary

I was raised in the Protestant reformed christian‎ faith as a child (Presbyterian). We did not hear much about Mary other that she was the acknowledged mother of Jesus. Hence since converting to the RC faith some 27 years ago, I have remained somewhat curious why Mary is so important to Catholics and indeed members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order I am a lay associate of.

Well I finally found an answer in The Catholic Thing, a daily message that (Canadian) Cardinal Thomas Collins had recommended a few months ago. The author of the article, Casey Chalk, quotes no less than Reformed theologian Karl Barth, to illustrate Protestant suspicions about RC Marian importance and veneration. In his Church Dogmatics Barth said:

“Marian dogma is neither more nor less than the critical, central normative dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, the dogma from the standpoint of which all their important positions are to be regarded and by which they stand or fall. The “mother of god” of Roman Catholic Marian dogma is quite simply the principle, type and the essence of the human creature cooperating servant-like (ministerialiter) in its own redemption on the basis of prevenient grace, and to that extent the principle, type and the essence of the Church.‎”

Not all Catholic theologians, religious or clergy might agree, citing Jesus Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection as centerpieces of Catholic dogma.  Chalk goes on to quote Manfred Hauke in his Introduction to Mariology: “Mary, virgin Mother of the Savior, is closely united with the work of salvation. God made the Incarnation depend on the ‘yes’ of this woman, who deeply becomes part of the mystery of the Covenant.” Without Mary’s consent, there is no messiah.”

Well I never exactly thought of it this way. ‎ Furthermore, in Mary, we see a perfect model for ourselves. We too are chosen by God manifested by our baptism or through a calling from Christ later in life.  Our cooperation is required, just like Mary’s was. We can reject the baptismal promises that were made by our parents on our behalf.  We can ignore His callings to us later in our life.   Of course, this participation in our own salvation is not accomplished solely through our own willpower, but by God’s grace operative at the beginning, middle, and end of all our actions.

Catholics aim to imitate Mary in being entirely submissive to the divine will. Hauke explains: “Mary is like a focal point in which the central truths of the Catholic faith can be seen.” This was certainly true for St. Eugene de Mazenod, founder of the Oblates.

This clarifies somewhat why Protestants have downplayed Mary’s importance. Inasmuch as Mariology illuminates human collaboration in our salvation, it violates the core Protestant principles of sola fide (“by faith alone”) and sola gratia (“by grace alone”). Mariology becomes, in Barth’s words, “a tumor, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Tumors must be excised.” For Protestantism, Marian devotion is not merely a matter of idolatrous distraction from worship of God, it vitiates the salvific economy.

Mary’s witness, as the RC Church teaches, reminds us that our wills are not so deadened by sin that we require irresistible grace (another Reformed doctrine), but remain sufficiently intact that we are truly culpable for responding in faith and love to the overtures of divine grace. For Protestants, Marian dogma is not simply a distraction, but an attack on the very heart of Protestantism, and thus can be a serious obstacle for conversions.

As a child I was told that Jesus loves me. However I could not achieve salvation unless God alone willed it. God either chooses me or he doesn’t – for His reasons – which remain unknown. He is supreme. If God depends on me to say yes, this subtracts from his supremacy. It is a less welcoming way to come to salvation. I remember during my RCIA conversion program of feeling so welcomed into the Catholic faith. Now I recall why. Everyone is invited to the table and has a free choice in accepting His invitation – i.e. of cooperating with God, or not. Just as Mary had a choice and said yes. Her example of cooperating with God’s will is the supreme example we have on which to base our own personal decision. So that is why she is so important to Catholics, to the Oblate and more and more to me.

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Karl Barth – The Great Positive Possibility

Continuing with his Romans 13; v8- 14 commentary. If subjection to the authorities in this world is the negative possibility that one conformed to God must endure with its ‘not-doing’ of rebellion, then what is the flip side? The great positive possibility, continues Barth, is love. Love conquers evil and in the words of Jesus “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” is the law by which Christian must live. This means that to every man we should owe love. It is not permitted to excuse ourselves for the absence of love by saying that since we live in the shadowy region of evil, we can only bear witness to the coming world by ‘not-doing’. Love of one another ought to be undertaken as the protest against the course of this world.   Quoting Barth directly: “We are thinking of a general ethical way of behaving – not just a single act. By love we do the ‘new’ by which the ‘old’ is overthrown and we breach the wall of the incomprehensible ‘not-doing’. Love is the outpouring of the Spirit, that reality by which men know God and lay hold of Him as the Unknown Hidden God. Love is thus human religious impossibility apprehended as the possibility of God. Love is the fulfilling of the law. To love thy neighbour in practical terms means that Thou shalt not kill; Thou shall not steal; Thou shall not covet… That men should thus be confronted by other men is the riddle that is presented to us. If we in the unknowable neighbour, apprehend and love the unknown God then who then am ‘I’? Be thyself the neighbour and there is no need for any further question. Love is the good work by which evil is overcome. Love is that denial and demolition of the existing order that no revolt can bring about. If therefore, as a protest against the course of this world, I cease to love, I therefore simply do not love God. We spend our years as a tale that is told – this is the secret of time which is known as the ‘Moment’ of revelation, in that eternal ‘Moment’ which always is, and is not. Time is the irrevocable way of the past and the relentless approach of the future. Facing, as it does, both ways, each moment in time is a parable of the eternal ‘Moment’. Every moment in time thus bears within it the unborn secret of revelation, and every moment can be thus qualified – This do, knowing the time. And so, the known time – apprehended and comprehended in its transcendental significance – provides the occasion for the incomprehensible action of love. Wherever a moment in the past or in the future has been qualified by the Now of revelation that lies in the midst between the two, there is the opportunity for the occurrence of love – for its ‘living regiment’ (Kierkegaard). And faith which sees revelation is the fulfilling of the law. Love as the great possibility has become a command!”

April 1962 Edition
Great and timeless Mr. Barth!

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Karl Barth – The Great Negative Possibility

German stamp showing Karl Barth

In his Epistle to the Romans, Karl Barth advises readers of Romans not to start with the 13th chapter. If one does not understand the book as a whole, you will not well understand what he has to say here.

Chapter 13 deals with Paul’s advice on how to deal with positions expressed by Church, State, the Law and Society as a whole.  Barth argues that one who has been transformed to God already has “the answer” and therefor could develop somewhat negative attitudes towards these bodies because they too profess to have “the answer”. Their rules and ordinances may impinge or conflict with one’s freedom to seek after God and his Order. If one already has “the answer” in God why bother with other “false God” answers? “In such cases should one rebel or not?” asks Barth.

Revolution against an authority is bad concludes Paul because after all it is God that has permitted these authoritative bodies to be established in the first place. So when you resist their edicts, rules and commands, you are resisting God’s work at least in an indirect way.

But this is justified you say when the ruler or government uses Evil to usurp what is good to impose their control over people. Is it not justified to harbor resentment against such an order? Of course it is tempting, but argues Paul and Barth, in adopting his plan, the revolutionary allows they themselves to be over come by evil. They set themselves up to be the “grand inquisitor”. They forget that they are not the One who judges all, but only God can do this.

We must overcome evil with good, not with more evil says Paul.  When we resist the temptation to be angry, to assault, to rebel against authority even when it is an unjust one, we are using good to overcome evil Barth emphasizes. ‎And that is the appropriate path we must take as Christians. Sort of humble passive submission. Else we ‎succumb to the great negative possibility.

This position of humble submission of Barth’s was to severley challenge him in the events leading up to the 2nd World War. The German Christian Movement had corrupted church government making it subservient to the state and had introduced Nazi ideology into German Protestant Churches that contradicted the Gospel. Barth rejected this influence and was the lead author of the Barmen Declaration that said allegiance to Jesus Christ gives the church the impetus to resist influence of other lords such as the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. He mailed this declaration to Hitler personally. Hence the limits of passive complicity in this world do have their limit. It is all about the supremacy of God.

Deutsche Bundespost stamp celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Barmen Declaration – scanned by NobbiP, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11316278

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The Stumbling Stone

Romans Chapter 9

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

This is the place in Romans I decided to consult Karl Barth on. What in the earth is the “stumbling stone” and why did God place it on the road to Zion?

Before he answers this question, here is what he had to say about the Church in the context of imparting faith.

“Religion is not the Kingdom of God. Religion is human work. Maybe the Church is ignorant that there exists no such law of rightneousness and that it is following after a phantom. In any case, it continually forgets it.”

And “In fact, a religion adequate to revelation and congruent to the righteousness of God, the law of rightneousness, is unobtainable by man except in the miracle of the absolute ‘Moment’. And faith is a miracle. Otherwise it is not a faith.”

Finally “Why should not the miracle of faith, about which the church speaks,be followed after? Why does the object of the Church’s pursuit remain always a phantom? Because their pursuit comes not from faith but from works. Men come to faith only from and through faith. Faith is to love and fear God above all things; to love and fear Him as He is, and not as we think Him to be.”

About the stumbling stone, in one context it is using the law as a way to righteousness that none of us succeed at because we break the rules. Paul and Barth go further: “The stone of stumbling, which at the same time is the precious corner stone laid in Zion, is – Jesus Christ. In Him God reveals Himself inexorably as the hidden God who can be apprehended only indirectly. In Him He conceals Himself utterly, in order that he may manifest Himself to faith only.”

Beautiful!!

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Reading Karl Barth


I am finally finding I’m able to read and understand theologian Karl Barth. While painfully slow, I am getting much food for spiritual thought by plowing through sections of his Epistle to the Romans.
I acquired this book some years ago at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality when I attended some evening lectures there before retirement.

I tried reading it several times and got lost in the first few pages. Recently I was reading Romans and decided to consult Barth to see what he had to say on a particular verse. And voila, it worked. I was astounded at what I read there.

First, a word about Romans. Written when he was in Corinth, to the Christians in Rome whom he had never met, it is Paul’s fullest, grandest and most comprehensive statement of the gospel. Many from St. Augustine to Luther came to their fullest faith through the impact of Romans. St. John Chrysostom had Romans read to him aloud once a week. The Church Reformers saw Romans as the key to understanding all scripture.

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian who lived all his life in Switzerland from 1886 to 1978. Early on, as a pastor in a small town, he reportedly ran out of material to preach on and decided to study the Book of Romans and write a book about it. The book caused quite a stir across Europe and overseas. Single handedly, Barth managed to reorient theological discussions around Jesus. 

Barth says God choses to reveal himself through the life, death and resurection of Jesus Christ. It is not possible for we men to know God, the unkowable, through our reasoning, intuition, culture or human achievements. Thus Jesus Christ is God revealed. Barth’s theology is known as Revelation Theology because it is sourced directly from the word of God and not from other sources such as by observing nature or  our intellect.

Barth went on to write many other works including his unfinished Church Dogmatics – 9000 pages – one the longest works in all systematic theology! He lectured at Princeton University. Barth’s influence extended well beyond the academic world. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1962. The man in the street was discussing Barth!

I am attracted to him because of his clear focus on the Word of Go and the incredible things he says. His weakness may be verbosity and sometimes reading things into the Bible which are not really there. In future posts I will explore some of his ideas through what I found in the Epistle to the Romans:

  • God is supreme
  • Jesus Christ is God revealed
  • We have a free concience
  • When we realize who God is (the Krisis) we must live our life accordingly e.g. by edifying our neighbours, not judging them which is God’s business
  • Each person who hears the Call of God learns to know God on a personal basis and need not be encombered by religious rules which can be the enemy of faith
  • God’s grace works through us; it is God who chooses us, not we Him
  • Thinking is a biological process presupposed by creation and God and hence cannot really help us to know Him
  • It is only through Jesus Christ that we know anything about God

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    Of Human Bondage

    I really liked this 1915 novel. Somerset Maugham’s story of Philip Carey, a handicapped orphan, is indeed a masterpiece. It covers Carey’s life from the loss of his parents as a young boy until he settles down just before age thirty.

    Written with both dialogue and narrative, we are treated to Carey’s inner thinking as he struggles to find himself in life, love and career. The principle obstacle is Mildred, a thin, anemic skinned waitress who Philip falls madly in love with. She feels no love for him but comes in and out of his life seeking financial help because he is a “gentleman” and she knows she has power over him. He succumbs every time and devotes countless amounts of money and aid to assist her in her needs.

    He decides not to become a Vicar like his uncle, tries accounting and then sets out first for Heidelberg and then to Paris to become a painter. After failing at this he returns to London and goes to med school. However he runs out of money after supporting Mildred and losing his last resources in the stock market.  He wonders the streets of London close to starvation and feeling suicidal.‎ He finally lands work as a women’s clothing designer. 

    His uncle finally dies and leaves him enough money to complete his medical studies. He is finally over Mildred and meets the Athelny family who invite him to weekly dinner as one of the family.  He eventually marries their daughter Sally; a happy ending I found somewhat surprising given all the preceding melodrama.

    The story seems a bit prolonged and seems to waiver near the end. It was as if Maugham‎ wasn’t sure how to end it. Is Mildred going to come back one more time and Carey succumb to more self-induced misery or is he simply doomed to a life without finding a loving partner? Hence the somewhat surprising happy ending in my view.

    A tour de force about a young man with a club foot finding his way in early 20th century Britain. If you happen to know your way around London you will ‎really enjoy the areas and streets mentioned in this book. Of Human Bondage is both a positive and negative experience in Maugham’s experience. I give it a 9.5 out of 10. At 600 pages, it could be shorter. I also found it hard at times to keep track of all Philip’s male friends coming and going.

    Several movies have been made including the 1934 version starring Bette Davis as Mildred Rogers which you can find on YouTube. I am watching it right now and Bette Davis is alluring.

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