Monday, June 8, 2009
Keats Island is one you’ll see from the highway to Whistler. Look West at those forested islands poking out of the great expanse of water and over to the steep slopes of the mainland disappearing into the deep and the great snow-capped peaks to the North and then back out there towards place on the horizon where the sun sets, and there it is: Keats. Home of the Barnabas conference center.
When you arrive at the dock on the water-taxi, your first thought is the realization that just setting foot on this dock, turning for the full circle panorama, is enough. But then to stay for the week, well, it doesn’t take much more to put you in the zone.
It’s only a few miles off Horseshoe Bay, where the massive ferries load and unload passengers and vehicles delivering them to ports all around the islands north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Canadians celebrate Spring and Summer with gardens that take their cue from Butchart near Victoria whose designers were inspired by Regents Garden just around the corner from Buckingham Palace. Barnabas follows in the tradition of those English Gardens filling in the foreground with bright blooming color on the ground, along the pathway and hanging in baskets from the eves and the lampposts. The backdrop only looks more like a photograph or mural than actual sea and mountains because we spend too much time looking at plasma screens and not enough taking in the real thing.
But this is the real thing.
It’s our second week on Keats. The first we spent a year ago under those common gray skies of the Pacific Northwest. The clouds formed a relatively high ceiling, which means visibility remained unlimited except when those heavily laden clouds decided to release their moisture for a gentle rain. We would sing “Let It Rain” knowing that the watering is a key element in turning all things green up there on those islands. “Let it rain. Let it rain. Open the floodgates of Heaven.”
But this week, we had six consecutive days of blue sky, balmy breezes and bright sunshine. Spectacular sunrise. Magnificent sunsets. I’d like to find words to put you in the setting, but the scene challenges a writer in the same way it challenges a painter or poet or a photographer. Can it be captured? Probably not.
They call it Barnabas because he’s the Bible character who just couldn’t stop spreading encouragement everywhere he went. And that’s what you feel everywhere you walk on these grounds. And at mealtime the menu fits right in: cuisine presented with the same loving care and color and international flavor as the grounds. Your private quarters, as I think about it, are just as warm and embracing as the panorama opening up through the windowpane.
It’s at a place like Barnabas at Keats that God does some of his best work.
The twenty-four of us who gathered as leaders for refreshment, instruction, and connectedness in community were all looking for some of the same things: confirmation and clarity and direction and energy for the journey. I found all of that. The others, I’m quite certain, would say the same.
We came from all over the world. And we completed the course. An evening of celebration and commissioning on the bluff looking across the water at the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies marked the conclusion. Our journey took many of us through transition and hardship, accomplishment and celebration. We are now forever linked.
Leaving the island, we all came home to family, and for me, as the calendar would have it, just about the whole family. My nephew called the meeting. When his bride walked down an aisle between a large collection of white chairs filled up with the people he loves, lined in straight rows on a green meadow on the highest point, a hilltop in an old park in the city near the house he called home as a young boy, we were all there (save one or two). Amid big red balloons and a collection of noteworthy friends and extended family, Jessica in a white dress and shawl and veil gently covering her smile, on the arm of her father, approached him down that aisle. And as she did, Tyler wept openly. They were tears of celebration. And anticipation. And pure joy.
We all joined in.
Coming away from Keats, in our pockets, the twenty-four of us all carry a token, a reminder of a journey that began on an island across from Gibsons on the Straight of Georgia: a sharp edged pointed flintstone. Shaped with precision and care.
We are now alumni. Arrow leaders.
And I also carry with me a distinction among the thirteen hundred graduates serving all over the world. I was the oldest in my class (the 25th). And the President confirmed it – the oldest Arrow graduate ever.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009