Yesterday was another beautiful, bluebird day here in often-rainy Seward, Alaska. It was one day after a spring break where it seemed like each day was trying to be more epic than the last. So, since the weather was great, I got outside with the dog on a walk. Both of us needed it. We started off around town, then headed towards a short “Two-Lakes Trail” walk. However, along the way we got sidetracked by a mountain.
I’d talked about the trail up Mount Marathon with folks since I arrived over two months ago but had never ventured up it. This the famous mountain from the “Mount Marathon Race” on the Fourth of July. While I was headed up less steep “Jeep Trail” I’d heard it was still steep and I’d heard it was slippery. And, when headed out by myself I tend not to go places where I don’t really know where I’m going. I’d rather get lost with someone than alone. But I started up anyway and it was fine. Yes, it was a a bit of a workout. And, yes, it was a little slick coming down. But it was a brilliant, chilly hike on a cold spring day with a nice view up at the top.
On the way down I got a most interesting call on my cell phone. The reception on both ends was a little shaky and it became clear early on that I was speaking way too fast for the person on the other line. The caller from Alabama had a deep Southern accent that was somewhat challenging to make out as I measured my steps down the hill. But we eventually caught on to what the conversation was about.
Here was a gentleman who had attended Seward Methodist Church years (and years) ago. He told me about being at the church when he was a child and he told me that his parents had purchased two of the pews in the old church, before it burned down in 1994 in the famous Christmas Eve fire caused by some old, faulty wiring. He told me about growing up in Seward and enjoying the area. When I told him that he was having this conversation with me as I headed down Mt. Marathon, he seemed very impressed…and still seemed impressed even when I had told him I’d only gone up to the “reservoir” part-way up the mountain.
The reason he was calling is that he wanted some bookmarks from the church. He remembered them from years ago and he said they were the most beautiful, handmade church bookmarks he’d ever seen–very Alaskan, beautiful flowers. He said that at this point in his life he wanted to “buy” some of these bookmarks so he could give them to his children and his grandchildren to share the story of the church he grew up in and how important that “big” Methodist Church in Seward was to him. And, in telling them about the church, he’d be telling them about Jesus.
As our conversation came to a close he said: “Keep climbing that mountain. When you get to the top of it and look all around you’ll find yourself dropping to your knees to have a conversation with your Maker.” I replied, with some humor, “And when I get down I’m going to tell everyone else that I actually made it to the top.”
Bookmarks have a very specific role. Their name makes it pretty clear. They mark places in books for us so we can remember where we are, how far we’ve gone, or remember some part of the story that we need to remember for ourselves or to share with others. Bookmarks have now been digitized for our Kindles and iPads, but they still do the same thing. They keep our place for us.
This gentleman from Alabama remembered the bookmarks from this church of ours up here. They marked a place on his own faith journey. And, as twelve of them were sent off to him yesterday, he’ll be able to use them to tell those closest to him about a specific place in the the faith of his younger days. They will mark the spot for him. He’ll be able to remember. He’ll be able to share it with others, bookmarking his time at Seward Methodist Church.
I am hoping that, as I enter my last years of life, I’ll be able to share stories of the churches of my younger years with my children and grandchildren to share the story of faith. I’ll be able to pull out the Bible I got at confirmation class in Yorktown Heights, New York with the handmade cross bookmark inside of it and tell about the Christmas pageants and choirs that started me on the path to faith. I’ll be able to talk about my youth group friends from Marion as I go through pictures I may still be able to find. These are places and people and events that I want to remember and reflect on and share. And, in telling these stories my children’s children will be able to see how I experienced God in the churches of my childhood.
What are your bookmarks of faith? What are the places, the stories, you’ve marked to reflect on and share for yourself, for your children, for your grandchildren?
Perhaps it’s now time to share these stories.