The Apostle – Sholem Asch

I read this fictional book sometimes with difficulty over the past 3 months. It is exceedingly long at 742 pages in small print. The Cardinal Giant paperback edition shown at left, was published in 1957. It was coming apart at the seams and I had to shore it up with scotch tape multiple times. I discovered this book in the Oblate Reading Room in Martha’s Cottage basement at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior. I am the sometimes volunteer librarian of this hoard of books which came from the personal collections of several Oblate priests. I was not disappointed.

You see I grew up going to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church on Woodroffe Ave in Ottawa. I never knew much about St. Paul other than he was the apostle of the gentiles and wrote many letters in the New Testament. I am now much more knowledgeable and partial to St. Paul as a result of reading this book.

First a word about the author. Sholem Asch (1880-1957) was a prolific Polish born Jewish author, play write and essayist. He wrote in Yiddish, a high German derived language with elements of Hebrew and Aramaic that is still spoken today by 2 million Hasidic and Haredi Jews. He remained a Jew in faith all his life but was smitten by a desire to bridge the gap between Jews and Christians. For writing this and similar books he was attacked by his supporters for promoting Christianity. (1941 Photo courtesy Wikipedia.)

The story of Paul is simply amazing. Born a Jew in Tarsus on the south coast of Turkey, he was originally known as Saul of Tarsus, Greek speaking, he was sent to Jerusalem to study Jewish law. He became a prominent Pharisee charged with persecuting so called Christians who believed that the Jewish Messiah had already come, been crucified by the Romans and had come back to life. In exceeding detail Asch describes how early Christians were pulled from their homes and tortured to death in an effort to exterminate them.

On the way to Damascus to persecute the Christians living there, Saul has his famous encounter with Jesus and is blinded for days. He then spends the next 40 years in the desert (e,g, in Petra) contemplating what he is to do with the rest of his life. We all know the story – Saul becomes Paul and takes it on himself to spread the Christian faith to gentiles i.e. non Jews. But nobody believes him. They remember him as a Christian persecutor. What is going on?

The novel describes in vivid detail how Paul continued to run into roadblocks wherever he went. The Jerusalem apostles accuse Paul of breaking with the Law of Moses and reject him as a authoritative member of their community. The pagan communities in Greece, Turkey and eventually Rome run him out of town. He is ruining business for the idol makers. Actually he is scourged 5 times, stoned twice, shipwrecked 3 times and locked up in prison for years. And still he lives and persists!

I like the book because it conveys the details of paganism that existed in those times. Imagine believing in an invisible God!! Pagans were having none of it as they had Isis, Diana and a host of other “visible” Gods including Roman Emperors Claudius and Nero whom they could see and make sacrifices to for protection. The sweep of history covered is incredible and Asch is a great researcher in carrying us along. If it wasn’t for St. Paul it is most likely that the Christian faith would have been snuffed out as just another one of many Jewish sects.

Some of the language makes it difficult to read e.g, Peter is called Simon bar Joseph throughout. In a touching ending, Peter and Paul embrace in Rome. Peter goes one way to be crucified up side down. Paul goes the other way to be beheaded, since he is a Roman citizen. Magnificent.

9.5 out of 10 stars. I definitely want to read more Sholem Asch!

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Inner Journey – Gobsmack

We continued south through Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, New Mexico and then crossed into west Texas. The things we remembered most about El Paso is that you can see Ciudad Juarez across the border and the Walmart parking lot we stopped in. When I opened the back door of the Trekker, the strong wind caught the door and almost tore it off the hinges. Walmart food marts were our go to place for groceries and wine throughout this trip. They are numerous, have a standardized lay out and of course, are known for their cheaper prices if not for the quality. Sadly, the Walmart we stopped in here was to be the scene of a major mass shooting of Latinos in 2019. And they said Ciudad Juarez is the more dangerous place.

So we quickly headed out of town and made our way to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and went for an amazing hike.

Somewhere during this week, we had run into an friendly Englishman at a camp ground and chatted about places to see. He mentioned Carlsbad Caverns in SE New Mexico. “Absolutely gobsmack!” he said in referring to these huge underground caverns. Never having heard this term before we wondered what it meant. Was it good or was it bad? After googling it we decided we had to go and see for ourselves.

Pictures fail to capture the beauty and scale of these underground caverns that a river gorged out millions of years ago. Stalagmites and stalagtites and pools of aquamarine coloured water with crystals everywhere. It goes on for miles.

We then headed for the sandiest campground we had ever stayed in. Wow what a different experience this was. In fact it was gobsmack!

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Inner Journey – Standing on the Corner

Well we have been on this journey for over a month now. Just to recap. We set out from Ottawa about March 1, 2011 on a two month tour to the SW US in our Roadtrek 190. We had now visited 10 States and driven about 6000 km or so. We are not quite half way through. You may recall we sold our home by cell phone when in Oceanside, CA. What we did not explain then is that we had given an early exit date – May 24. So we had about 7 weeks left to complete our trip and move out of our house in Ottawa to somewhere. Time to pick up the pace a bit…

Colorado River

But the beautiful desert scenery in eastern Arizona and then western New Mexico kept holding us back. We drove thorugh small towns called Hotevilla, Shongopovi and Second Mesa in the painted desert Navajo Nation lands.

Then we drove through Winslow with the Eagles song playing loudly. We did not know it at the time but Madonna House Apostolate located in the Ottawa Valley in Combermere, ON operates an outreach house in Winslow.

Next stop was the Petrified Forest National Park. Wow what a neat experience to wander though the stone age trees that had literally turned to stone. Just a note on National Parks. We like parks but the US National Parks we visited out west are absolutely the most amazing parks we had ever seen. Banff National Park and Jasper in Canada are definitely in this category too.

We passed the continental divide and headed east for Albuquerque. We would have liked to go to Santa Fe but we turned south instead.

We stopped in for a visit at Fr. Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author is one of the world’s most popular spiritual writers and speakers. A lot of Catholic’s we know follow him daily and read his books. Non Catholics and disaffected ones too. We dropped in unannounced. It was funny. The receptionist greets us warmly and we casually ask if Richard is in today. No he is not here today and besides, you can’t just drop in and expect to see Richard….Then she smiled and gave us a nice cook’s tour. It was really fun.

It had been a long couple of days so we headed south for a peaceful evening in Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

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Inner Journey – Grand Canyon

We drove north through Flagstaff and it got cooler due the high elevation of 7000 ft above sea level. We descended again and arrived at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. No matter how much you prepare yourself it is hard to fathom the monstrous size of this canyon – one of the largest in the world – 400 km long by 15 km wide x 1.7 km deep! To say it took our breath away is an absolute understatement. We gazed and we gazed an were stunned by the beauty and scale of what we saw there.

A very brave young man!

We settled into the campground for a couple of nights and enjoyed the wildlife. That evening we went to a camp fire chat by the ranger. He said they lose several young people every year who get too close to the edge and fall over!!!

If we had more time, we could have hiked all the way down to the Colorado River (5000 vertical feet), stayed overnight in a lodge and rode a donkey back up the next day. Instead, we settled on hiking down about a 1000 feet into the canyon and then backup again. What a refreshing and tiring experience. We learned that some really athletic people hike all the way down and run back up in half a day just for the exercise.

Dave bought a new Tilley hat to replace the one he forgot on the train in Pamplona. Next day we headed east for some more sightseeing toward Navajo and Hopi country.

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Inner Journey – Sedona

We headed east into Arizona and stopped in Phoenix for a night. We revisited Yahweh Yoga where Marie had gone in 2009 for her yoga instructor certification training. She reminisced about the great people she met there and still keeps in touch with.

The next day we headed north to Sedona for some of the most beautiful scenery possible. We managed to find a campsite in a small RV park in this very popular tourist destination.

We went hiking. The air was so clear and the red rock so spectacular we lost total sense of distance. It looked like you could reach out and literally touch the mountains which were actually miles away. Surreal, took our breath away, painted canvas, joyous earth, rich greenery and utter silence – the pictures speak.

Then we continued our Inner Journey north towards Flagstaff.

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Inner Journey – La Quinta

La Quinta (la keenta) has several meanings in Spanish. It means “the fifth”. It means a hacienda – a second vacation home. It also is a chain of upscale motels in the US. Finally, it is a resort city in Riverside County, CA in the Coachella Valley. It was to this latter destination that we now set our Trekker sights on.

We departed Anza-Borrego for the east and then north. It was pure dehydrated desert. Vast landscapes of dry dusty rock and hills. Inhabitable for sure but no doubt there was some life abounding there. We drove by the Salton Sea a landlocked body of water laden with salts that straddles the San Andreus Fault. Not very inviting and an environmental disaster in the making according to the LA Times. Such is California in all its variations.

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We then drove to La Quinta to meet up with our friends Greg and Brenda who live there during the winter. Dave had met Greg many years previously at Ioco Refinery when they used to go camping together. Since then they stayed in touch exchanging Christmas cards and notes over the years. Retired too, Greg and Brenda also have a summer home in Idaho as it is too hot to stay in La Quinta (regularly reaching over 40 deg in summer!). It was good to meet up after so many years apart and reminisce.

They live in a gated community backing onto a spectacular golf course. When we pulled up to the gate the guard looked at us askance, not too keen to let in an RV to the exquisite grounds. Greg had sent down word so he opened the gate and in we went. A note on gated communities. These are very common in the US and rare in Canada. Considered enclaves by some, they are often home to high-valued properties, beautifully landscaped streets with common amenity facilities. We certainly enjoyed visiting one. Greg and Brenda offered us their private “cassita” suite separate from the house. We were bathed in luxury after our tiny Trekker living space – and much appreciative for it!

We spent a wonderful couple of days together, they taking us to Trader Joe’s, a huge wine store and a couple of great restaurants. Our days were spent walking, hiking and then recovering in the backyard pool. To say we were pampered is an understatement. Did I also mention this is a world famous golf resort? Wow.

Well you know what is next. It was time to move on again having had a wonderful time. Thank you so much Greg and Brenda for having welcomed us into your world. We hope you are staying healthy and probably getting ready to head north right now to stay cool.

Very cool.

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Inner Journey – Anza-Borrego Desert

A Horse with No Name – America

We had been on the road now over 3 weeks heading mostly south west. It was now time to turn east and slowly meander in that direction. We made a bee line for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, about and hour north east of San Diego.

We had had a sneak preview of what to expect with friends Cindy and Marvin. We were anxious to go “boondocking” which means camping off the grid far from the services and amenities provided in RV parks or established campgrounds. We were not sure if it was allowed so after driving down the main street of Borrego Springs we headed out of town for 30 minutes until we found a dirt road and turned on to it. Continuing for another 10 minutes or so we came to a rocky hill with a nice view back towards the valley. We decided to camp right there. Here is what we saw.

It was one of the most memorable camping experiences we had in the Trekker. Utter silence except for a light wind. Pure clean desert air, the light gradually fading. No one around us for miles – actually we could see one other boondocker about half a km away so we felt safe here. An extremely peaceful event in touch with mother earth and the natural cycles of nature.

The next day we arose early and after breakfast drove back to towards town. After checking things out, going for a hike to see the wildflowers in bloom, we bought some souvenirs and checked into the State Park campground for the night.

After two days in the desert sun our skin began to turn red.

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Inner Journey – Socal

We drove south from Oceanside along the coast of Socal – Southern California. We remember seeing so many little boutique retreat centres. We passed place after place where yoga, Zen Buddhist, Christian, Indian, healthy lifestyle and similar workshops were available daily. Places like Solana Beach, Delmar, Torrey Pines – state parks, beaches and campgrounds. What a great place to live we thought as we continued our way along the coast.

We came to San Diego and checked into an RV resort park. We went exploring the Old Town, the US Naval Air Station and Coronado beach areas. There was lots to see. We met up with Marie’s friend Cindy and husband Marvin who live in San Diego. They were avid outdoor hikers and promised to take us to a place that would truly take our breath away.

So the next day we left early together for a desert hike – this time towards Anza-Borrego Desert Park, about 90 km east of San Diego. We took some back roads noticing border patrol vehicles everywhere since we were only a few miles from Mexico. Cindy and Marvin directed us to a high ridge overlooking the desert. It truly took our breath away. The foggy mist of the coast literally evaporated above our heads as it could not penetrate into the dry air ahead. It was into the sunshine we gazed in awe at the stunning beauty of the California desert in springtime.

Cindy and Marvin

They took us on a fantastic hike up a mountain gorge as far as we could safely go. It was tricky in places – we really had to watch our footing. It was a secret place that only the locals know about. We reached a large clump of huge dried out palm trees of a kind that we had never quite seen before. Marie and Cindy did sun salutations as Marvin and I chatted in the shade. What a treasure of a day never soon to be forgotten.

Later we returned to San Diego for our last night on the west coast. We were getting anxious to push on again.

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Inner Journey – Oceanside

So we had been on the road now for 2 weeks.  You may remember that we had left our son in charge of showings of our house back in Ottawa. Well he had given us a heads-up that a couple in the neighborhood had returned for a 2nd and then a 3rd look. He thought an offer to purchase was imminent. We processed this good news as we motored from Garden Grove to Oceanside, CA a distance of 100 km. Oceanside is the quintessential name for a town next to the ocean isn’t it? However there is also WaterColor near Seaside on the Florida panhandle that we would discover a few years down the road. After all the driving, we were looking forward to spending a lazy week in Oceanside and hooking up with our friends Norm and Patty from Calgary. We had just checked into a nice RV resort not far from the beach when we received an email from Kyle that the couple were going to send us an offer to buy our house by email. We were operating on wifi at the RV resort. We did not have a data/roaming plan. Dave received the email offer and got so excited that he could not remember his password when he went to reply. After 10 tries didn’t his Blackberry reset itself and so he lost all his email addresses, etc.. He remembers breaking out in a sweat even though it was not that warm on the coast that day! So there he was phone in hand trying to negotiate the sale of our house by email with a wiped phone. It was not lol but sol – swear out loud! lol! Well somehow he got reconnected and traded emails back and forth over a couple of days with the potential buyers. Finally we had a deal! All done by email on a Blackberry on wifi in the Oceanside RV resort lol! Now we were truly going to Arnprior and could really relax.
We headed to a nearby mission and enjoyed the warmer air inland, the beautiful grounds and history lesson. All told Spain established 21 missions in California between 1793 and 1833. Their stated purpose was to evangelize Native Americans. Today there is controversy about their methods and the degree of success. As in Canada, there is evidence that many natives were treated harshly and died of diseases that they had no immunity against. St. Junipero Serra a Franciscan, founded the first such mission in California and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. We returned to the coast to get together with Norm and Patty and their daughter Jessica. They were here for the winter. We had some good times together, played a round of golf and visited Escondido. Surprisingly on the coast it was not that warm – we needed a light jacket unless we could get out of the wind. Inland, like in Escondido, it warmed up 3 or 4 deg C.
Twins – A lady from Oregon was driving the Roadtrek on the left and spending her winter in the sun.
Preparations for a wedding to be celebrated on the grounds of the Luis Rey Mission.
We certainly enjoyed our stay in Oceanside but after a week, it was time to push on again.

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Inner Journey – Las Vegas

So there we were out on the road from Omaha westwards in early March. We were some 1000 km from our destination on the other side of the Continental Divide. It would be a long day.

Our goal was to get safely over the Eisenhower Tunnel Pass west of Denver which is 3400m (11,158 ft) above sea level. We hoped there would be no snow storm. This meant only minimal stopping today – bathroom breaks, fuel and coffee. We were up for it!

We turned SW into Colorado passing our namesake Fort Morgan. It wasn’t long before we could see the snow capped Rockies in the distance. We motored right through Denver without stopping and heading for the steep climb ahead. Going up steep hills I would usually stick to the right lane and let the Trekker slow right down. I was reluctant to go faster thinking of gas consumption and wanting to avoid potential overheating. We chugged and chugged uphill around bends enjoying the views of snow covered peaks near and far. It was cloudy but no snow. Yeh!

Made it safely over the Eisenhower pass
We eventually stopped for the night at a roadside motel. We had not camped once on this trip so far. It was still winter and few RV Parks were open yet. Plus we were in a hurry a bit. We had a reservation coming up at the Oasis RV Resort in Las Vegas and did not want to be late. The next morning we set a goal of reaching St. George on the Utah-Arizona state line – about 950 km, another really long day. We sailed by the turnoff to Vail and gave it the gas downhill. We soon came to the Utah state line and the most of the snow was gone. We drove across a vast rolling stone plateau with little sign of life – few trees or vegetation. It was an endless rock desert. Marie felt a bit uncomfortable looking out at the desolation. We would have hated to have a breakdown here – no gas, water or food for over 200 km. We kept going to St. George and found a nice roadside motel around 6 PM with palm trees. Aha we thought, we are out of winter now. But no!!! Overnight there was a 20 cm snowfall and the Trekker was covered in the morning! It soon melted away once we were on our way to Las Vegas, now only 200 km away. We passed through the NW corner of Arizona and drove through the well irrigated Moapa Valley in Nevada. We finally drove down the strip in Las Vegas marveling that there was not much traffic. We found the Oasis RV Resort south of town and checked in. This was one of the most luxurious RV parks. Spacious, lovely landscaping, huge pool and clubhouse enriched by endless sunshine. We decided to take the bus back into town rather than unhook, drive in and find parking. Las Vegas! The thing I remember most is people – of all ages in colourful clothes, some laughing, some crying, some preaching, others muttering to themselves. People approached us continuously, inviting us in to their casino or restaurant or trying to sell something. Very strange but interesting. Lot’s of souvenir shops, huge luxurious hotels, fountains and casinos.
Not sure what but he was certainly entertaining
We had a great dinner after wandering through the casinos and picking up some souvenirs. The next day we went swimming in the resort pool and then downtown again. Soon we had had enough of the big city and were ready to push on for the desert.

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