The Source

First Christian Reformed Church, Hamilton

Years ago, when we moved from Ancaster village to our farm, we kept our membership at the same downtown Hamilton church – the only difference was that there were now morning chores and so we were pressed for time on Sunday mornings.  Church services commenced at 9:30 am.

As my father drove down the escarpment roads enroute to worship,  my mother would be vigilant for any threats to our safety from other traffic, (which mostly consisted of other innocent-looking church-going people).  Although I’m pretty sure she’d never heard of Thomas Hobbes, she believed a similar philosophy to his:   life could be “nasty, brutish and short.”  But trouble was not going to happen on her watch, if she could help it.

Her other belief was in rigid self-inspection.  That could be at least traced to John Calvin’s belief in self-knowledge as a first step on the path to salvation.  We were her children, and so included in the scrutiny for any imperfections.  Without warning, we could be swooped upon with a spit-dampened tissue to vigorously wipe off any face smudges.

First Christian Reformed Church was very full in those days.  Parking was a problem, as the church did not have any, and so we sometimes hurried in from several blocks away.  We would arrive in the nick of time, and therefore any remaining seating would be in the very shadow of the pulpit.  Chairs had to be set up to accommodate the overflow.  Needless to say, we literally looked up to ministers in those days.

So my view was pretty similar to the perspective in the photo above.  As a child, bored with long sermons, I imagined the tall curved windows that presided over our services as three stern old men,  Genevan giants who frowned at any fidgeting or impropriety.  In the bitterly cold snowy winters, we braved the icy “mountain” roads and stomped our boots on the mats as we came in.  On hot summer evenings, the skin on our legs melded to the wooden pews.   Few things were deemed important enough to deter attendance, whether for morning or evening services.

There are many good memories:  the majestic pipe organ music and the beautiful hymns sung whole-heartedly by the congregation, the  large Sunday School classes and Christmas programs, our girls’ Calvinette club led by young women we admired.  The Bible verses we memorized there are still in my heart today:

“What does the Lord require of us?  To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.”

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

“If any man (no gender inclusion then!)  is in Christ, he is a new creation:  the old has gone, the new has come.”

As the church grew, daughter congregations left to form their own places of worship, but initially First Christian Reformed Church was a central meeting place that included people living many miles apart.  It was this community that we primarily identified ourselves with, before any geographical or occupational categories.   Even today, I find comfort in remembering its solidarity, or in recalling the special Sunday evenings we would get to go there with our father while the younger ones stayed home.

To a group of often struggling immigrants, meeting together gave an assurance that God was still sovereign over heaven and earth, so all would come together right with this new world, too.  We could take heart, and begin a new week comforted by this hope and confidence.

Sunday Morning

“How sweet to wait within a holy place
The hour of song and prayer,
To yield the heart unto a spell of grace.
Serenely brooding like a presence there.”

Ruby Archer


Precious Jewels

Family “Jewel” Tree

When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.


Like the stars of the morning,
His brightness adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

He will gather, He will gather
The gems for His kingdom;
All the pure ones, all the bright ones,
His loved and His own.                  William Cushing, (1856)


On the breastplate of his garment, God stipulated that Israel’s high priest wear designated jewels as he performed his priestly intercession for them in the tabernacle.  They symbolized the 12 tribes of the children of Israel.  The stones were set in four rows of three:

ruby, topaz, beryl;

turquoise, sapphire, emerald;

jacinth, agate, amethyst;

chrysolite, onyx and jasper.

They were mounted on gold filigree settings and on each stone was engraved the name of a tribe. They must have reflected the light of the Holy Place beautifully.  Worn over the priest’s heart, these precious stones represented a beloved community.

Often people will wear family rings with the birthstones of their children set into them.   Like the priests, parents who love the Lord sacrifice and intercede for their children, prayers that often began while they were yet unborn.

The family tree pictured above, handmade by our grandchildren, was a Christmas gift with special meaning.  Though it was not made with costly gems, it reminds us of the precious people in our lives.  We think of each other, belong with each other, care for each other no matter how far apart our physical distance.  We are connected by its branches.

God “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).  Even when our biological families fall short of ideal, we are all invited to become a part of the family of God, always loved, always welcome.  And, like beautiful jewels, always treasured.


Journey, T. Prins
The Mystical Boat, Odilon Redon

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” 

 Proverbs 29:18



“Well, you know my name is Simon,
And the things I draw come true.
Oh, the pictures take me, take me over
Climb the ladder with you.”

Edward McLachlan

Imagination, our great gift, is one of our most important faculties and essential to creativity.  Used properly, it can create beauty.  Used in the service of fear or oppression, it can cause chaos.  It can scare us silly, or help us to envision a solution or allow us to express ourselves. Like the will, or the intellect, it depends on whose service it enters.

We were made to be co-creators with God in his creation.  Imagination is not bound by physical limits, and can be childlike with curiousity and wonder.   As Proverbs 25:2 reads, “God delights in concealing things, scientists delight in discovering things.” (MSG)  Given a vision of potential, we are inspired to research, build, paint, write, sew.

The process of journaling, both with words and pictures, is an excellent way to stimulate the imagination, as it teaches us to observe the world around us and in us.  Hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell come alive as we employ them.

I once took a journaling class, offered as a University of Western Ontario continuing education course.  In one particular session, the teacher told a story in an imaginary setting, abruptly stopping us at a point where we were in front of a mountain and valley.  We were to draw what we pictured there.  I am by no means an artist, but figured that a wanderer would rather be in a green valley, by the grassy banks of a quiet river, so drew that.   In the distance, I sketched a train chugging across a bridge, and up on the hill, a house.

After class, an accidental turn stranded me in a maze of small streets off Riverside Drive instead of my intended main thoroughfare route through London.  I was trying to turn around in a small subdivision and head back when there came the low whistle of a train curving around the track in the distance on the hills to my left.  Up on a higher ridge were houses.  Only at that point did I realize that this scene was familiar – like my primitive river side drawing.  It was an odd feeling, as if I was like Simon from the Captain Kangaroo show who’d sketched a world that became reality.  Did I draw it, or was I drawn to it?

HOPE (Hospice Outreach Programs of Elgin) offers art journaling courses as part of working through grief. Especially when words fail, it’s healing to imaginatively work with your hands.  Art offers a colour palette for emotion, simple drawing or clay molding bring conflicted feelings to the surface.  Art provides an alternative stage to reveal our humanity.

“Not even an oar!” said the art therapist of my painting of the traveler following the tiller in the setting sun.  It’s as if, attracted by the sheer magnetism of the light, I am entrusting my whole being to its pull over the turbulent waves.   When I later came across Redilon’s painting, The Mystical Boat, in Thomas Moore’s Soul Mates, there was a thrill of recognition.  A boat setting out on an uncharted sea has historical allusions to the Biblical Noah, or the mythology of Tristan, setting out to sea with only his music.

There is much to explore in art, dreams, music, and story. Though we are alone in our journey, others have gone before us on similar quests.   Our imagination, like a pioneer, leads the way.




More than Meets the Eye

Image by moritz320,

Children have a great capacity for wonder, unlike jaded adults with a lifetime of disappointments and dashed expectations.  So, then, it’s all the more awesome and magical when life does sometimes reveal a brief glimpse of grandeur.

It happened once, years ago, that we had arranged a lunch date with one of our producers.  This kind of kibitzing was fairly common in business.   As he was from the Port Colborne area, we agreed on a restaurant of his choice in that area.

First impressions were definitely underwhelming.  The building looked like one of those corner variety stores, and its white aluminum siding apparently had seen better days.  At best, it seemed we could expect a country diner.   Instead, when we walked inside, we found an elaborate mosaic of tiled floors, the dark paneled wood siding reminiscent of an English manor house, multi-hued stained glass, a large aquarium with all kinds of exotic tropical fish.  It was all the more stunning because we didn’t see it coming.   It was a hidden gem.

Because we are human, we are often deceived by the humbleness of an exterior.   We don’t see the treasures within, and so pass by.  On the inside of its rough shell, the oyster contains the pearl.

When you saw Israel’s tabernacle, built according to God’s elaborate and exacting specifications, and symbolic of His presence with them,  you would have never guessed at the interior beauty.  On its exterior, the tent was covered by three layers:  goat hair, ram skins dyed red, and the hides of sea cows (likely manatees).  Few people ever saw the interior Holy Place, and only one priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, could enter the Holy of Holies.  It had to have been awesome, a golden ark and mercy seat overshadowed by golden angels.  On its entrance curtain and the interior linen ceiling were also cherubim, elaborately embroidered in colours of blue, purple and scarlet.

Jesus himself tabernacled among us as an ordinary person.  In his physical appearance, there was nothing spectacular to indicate his divinity, so many never recognized it.   But at his atoning death, this curtain at the entrance to the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom, a symbol of the access he had gained for those who longed for closer communion with God.

Steve Jobs was a  technological pioneer, a creative person who discovered so much during his lifetime.  Yet, in her eulogy, Steve Jobs’ sister, Mona, talked about his last words:  “Oh, wow! Oh, wow!  Oh, wow!”

As beautiful as this world can be it offers only glimpses.  It’s only a beginning.  God has prepared, for those who love him, what “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, or human mind can conceive.”  With the angels, we stand on tiptoe in longing, hope and anticipation.