From My WindowIssue Date: August 30, 2019
Janie Thibodeau Martin
Canada, I Love You
Before we moved to Oklahoma 19 years ago, Mike and I would occasionally get to Sault Saint Marie, Canada, and a bit beyond. Our honeymoon (on May 4) was a drive around Lake Superior. No one could believe we'd choose to spend our honeymoon in Canada so early in spring, but it was lovely. The scenery was amazing and the people we encountered were friendly and welcoming. But for the last 18 years, our location in Oklahoma was a deterrent to trips to our "neighbor" to the north, and precious vacation time limited our long-distance roaming.
Now that we are retired, we picked off an item on my "bucket list," traveling on the Trans-Canada highway. We entered Canada near Bemidji, Minnesota and headed west, camping along the way to Vancouver, where we dropped down to Seattle to visit our daughter and stellar son-in-law for a long weekend.
We had so many enjoyable experiences, but one of our favorites occurred where I least would have expected it, in church on Sunday.
We attended services in the tiny village of St. Francois Xavier, Manitoba; the name of the church, of course, was St. Francois Xavier. The small church was built in 1824, and unlike most older churches, has not been extensively modernized or enlarged. About the only nod to updating I spotted was the addition of a wooden wheelchair ramp. We were informed this church is the second oldest in use in the province of Manitoba. The church is plain and simple " while it had some large windows, the beautiful stained glass which characterizes Catholic churches was conspicuously absent. It is a utilitarian building; but carries itself with the grace of the ages.
The parishioners around us greeted us warmly, and the priest came to introduce himself and ask where we were from. In such a small church, visitors are instantly visible. Once the service started, I was startled at the quality of the two vocalists who led the singing, acapella. I was later informed the organist is a talent of equal ability but was on away from the community on vacation. It takes a strong and confident singer to open songs in perfect pitch without accompaniment " I made it a point to go talk to the singers after church and thank them.
My paternal grandfather's parents had come from Canada " French Arcadians displaced to Michigan's Upper Peninsula when England took Canada from France. So I was delighted that the service was offered in bilingual fashion " with alternating readings and songs sung in English and French. There was no hint of insisting that English be utilized; both of the parishioner's preferred languages were respected. My home church in Oklahoma was also bilingual, but in Spanish. I have only retained a tiny amount of the Spanish I learned in college " but that never stopped me from being engaged in the services.
But beside the warmth of the people and the beauty of the music, this church seemed to radiate an aura of grace. Maybe it was the thought that I was sitting in a pew (a hard, very upright one!) that has been occupied by generations of worshippers " some no doubt baptized and eulogized in front of this same altar, and now resting in the cemetery that filled the little church's side yard. I could close my eyes and imagine thousands of prayers being lifted for nearly two centuries; both of supplication in times of sorrow, and in joy. It felt like a place where prayer has special power, and is always heard.
Church attendance is down nearly everywhere. Mainstream churches in the United States, and elsewhere, struggle to be relevant to younger people; and even disillusioned or distracted seniors no longer attend on a regular basis. But sitting in this church, I felt the tug that church attendance, at its very best, exerts.
I took advantage of what I knew as a very special place to offer up prayers for some people that I know are going through difficulties, including an old friend from my school days. I know that these prayers were heard, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind. And when I contacted that old friend later to tell him what I had done, he said, "maybe that is why I feel so well today."
As the service concluded, a special blessing for children was offered, and two infants were carried up to the front to receive this grace. Such children are the future of organized religion, and it may be on these two sets of tiny shoulders that the future of this church rests " to not only thrive until their 200th anniversary in five years, but for a hundred more years after that. I hope another ten generations can experience the feeling I had in this special church.
And finally the congregation offered a traveler's blessing to Mike and I, as well as the other traveler present. Such generosity of spirit is what can draw and hold people to faith.
As we drove away, I was grateful that vacations do not lead me to skip church. I would have missed one of the most special experiences of this Canadian journey.
Song stuck in my head: "Gold Dust Woman," done well by many different artists but I love the Waylon and Willie version " very bluesy.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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