Faith at Niagara Falls

The week before last I spent three days in Niagara Falls. I wasn’t there to see the falls, visit the casino, or frequent the various and sundry quirky stops on Clifton Hill. I was there for a meeting of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission. The purpose of the Commission is to monitor the Waterloo Declaration, outlining the intention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada to live in full communion.

This is a committee whose members regularly comment on the deep satisfaction they get from this work. I have been a member for some 8 years. It is a great group and our twice annual meetings are rich indeed. For the last few years we have met in Niagara Falls, chosen for its economic efficiency vis-à-vis travel. In many ways it is an odd choice, with its crass commercialization around one of the most beautiful of nature’s wonders. Yet I regularly find these meetings spiritually enriching, in part because of the group and in part because we meet at the Mt. Carmel Spiritual Centre, a monastery of Carmelite order, which serves as an ecumenical retreat centre. The folk there are so very hospitable, and the food is to die for.

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I learned, this time around, that the Centre is in the midst of developing vineyards: the one seen above and another 7 acres vineyard elsewhere. In due course wine will be available for purchase. This is, of course, a longstanding tradition for monastic communities and a part of its plan for long term sustainability. Yet, learning about it buoyed me in a way. We hear much about the demise of the church in North America in general, and in Canada in particular. But the Carmelites are committed to their vision of setting aside space for sacred contemplation, giving the kind of physical room for spiritual discernment within a stone’s throw of Canada’s version of Las Vegas. I find this most amazing and hopeful.

People in my circles are generally rather jaded about Niagara Falls. I understand this, but whenever I am there, I take leave from the Centre most evenings for a walk down to the falls. The City really is commercial in the worst sense of the word. But whenever I get to the falls proper, I am awed by the majesty of water reminding me of my impermanence. I am always intrigued, as well, by the wall to wall wealth of ethnic diversity chronicling their visit to this otherworldly place: orthodox Jews alongside hijabbed women, followed by busloads of Japanese tourists.

During this last visit, the weather was rather miserable and so my walk along the Niagara Parkway was untypically quiet. Against the dull roar of the water and the patter of the rain the absence of jostling was marked. In some ways it was dull, but differently so in that hope settled as the hype of capitalism receded. The rain washed the excess away for a bit, and I had opportunity to see the falls anew. Hope emerged, perhaps hastened in part, by the realization that spiritual renewal can happen alongside of our most desperate efforts to improve upon nature – a lesson learned from the Carmelites.

The Carmelites know well that hope feeds prayer, and prayer grows hope. They are resolutely committed to this vision in the midst of one of North America’s most desperate attempts to sell the beauty that is freely given. These have been days in which heartening and hope is sorely needed. It has been good for me, this last week, to remember Mt. Carmel, and to know that God’s reign surely comes.

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