In my mid-40’s I returned for the first time, after 25 years away, to my hometown of Brockville, Ontario.
On the last day we took a boat tour through the beautiful Thousand Islands. Viewing the city from the water, I was astonished to see its skyline dominated by church spires. At least five lofty spires thrust their points into the blue, like tentpoles holding up a canopy of sky.
One of these spires belonged to my boyhood church, St. Peter’s Anglican. Though I had not become a Christian there, I attended regularly to sing in the boys’ choir, where Sunday after Sunday I was drenched in hymns, anthems, Scripture readings, stained glass, and sacraments. At fourteen I was confirmed there, which meant having the Bishop lay hands on me to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Though I was not ready to receive the Spirit, He certainly touched me. At the time I had no way of understanding the experience (since no one had bothered to teach me!), but after taking my first communion at the altar rail I could hardly walk back down the aisle, so moved, shaken, gently overwhelmed I was.
Many years would pass before I met even one person who could tell me the gospel. Nevertheless, as I sat in a boat on the St. Lawrence River and looked upon the church spires of my hometown, so many precious and holy memories came streaming back to me that all at once I saw how God’s grace had been following me all my life from the beginning. All along He had blessed me, watched over me, guided and protected. I saw His hand at work not only through the church, but through my family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and through the awesome natural beauty of this setting in which the zillion wild and unlikely escapades of my youth had taken place.
Before this experience, it had never occurred to me that Jesus was in the business of saving my entire life, not only the latter years but the early ones as well. I hadn’t realized that His power could extend even into what was already over and done, into the dark, secret, chaotic time of childhood and even into the profligate, desperately wasted years of my young aduldhood. I hadn’t known that redemption would be shallow and unreal for me until I let it bring light and hope, not only to my present and future, but to my past.
Reflecting on my personal history from the waterfront of Brockville, I now saw no evil in my past. Having spent decades wishing (either consciously or subconsciously) that my life had somehow been different, I now felt that everything about my upbringing had been perfect. Suddenly all I saw was how goodness and mercy had not merely followed but chased me down the years until finally wrestling me into an embrace.
As the Beatles sang:
There’s nowhere you can be
that isn’t where you were meant to be.
It’s easy to see: All you need is love.
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