More than a devotional (book is insight into community)

Northern Reflections, Desmond Carroll, paintings by Ted Harrison,

The cover of Northern Reflections shows an inukshuk and a blazing sun over ice. One of Ted Harrison’s favourite paintings, it was also selected by Marion Carroll, the wife of the late author, Desmond Carroll.

She had reason to choose that cover.

“It’s about guidance. Inukshuks were placed on the land to point the way.” She emphasized how unobtrusive the inukshuks were — that they were placed so that when travellers came upon them they could look at the outstretched arms and see direction.

Northern Reflections is a book that collects the writings of Desmond Carroll, the Dean of the Yukon for Christ’s Church Cathedral from 1985 to 2001. Though they started out as bulletin devotionals on Sunday morning, here they have been transformed by Herbert O’Driscoll — through his selection and collection — into a short devotional work, adorned by eight Ted Harrison paintings.

Production value on the book is high. The book uses heavy glossy paper to hold the Harrison paintings — and these are a delight. What Harrison shows in his paintings of community, Carroll reflects in his devotionals.

Let me say that these are devotionals of a very different kind.

Most devotional books are pretty standard fare — a bible verse, a thoughtful paragraph or two about the passage, an application to life.

These are not your normal devotionals and act equally as well as a record of a community living together.

Carroll’s 56 writings are nearly like letters to his congregation about the passing of time, the daily life of the people. While they are devotionals — as in they carry a message that is applicable to a person’s life, some wisdom in a homily — they are also very Yukon specific at times.

Desmond writes: “The longest day has passed, and the light of the long evenings with the hope of warmer weather brings that mood of summer that is so welcomed.”

(Oh, don’t we feel that one!)

There are glimpses of world events as Carroll speaks about Chernobyl and the Seoul Olympics. But mostly there’s a sense of intimacy — they are not like mini-sermons, but more like mini-chats.

I like Carroll’s way of bridging the really hard-to-understand theological concepts and making them accessible.

Notice the title of this one: Prayer and the Radar Search, which talks about prayer as radar searching the sky for planes and about not focusing our ears in only one direction, but being ready to hear God through whatever medium He speaks through or wherever we might get a hint of His voice.

These metaphors are handy.

Church can sometimes make a person feel bogged in rules, regulations and ancient stories. The Divine feels walled away by mystical codes.

Carroll here comes to you like your neighbour over the fence. I’ve suddenly got the feeling that he is Wilson, from Home Improvement, the TV series. Tim Allen’s neighbour, who never revealed the lower part of his face behind the fence, often gave Tim good practical advice from one neighbour to another. Unobtrusive direction. A pointing of the way.

In some ways, I don’t think Carroll would be upset that I’ve made his method of offering advice into a metaphor with a pop culture reference — that’s Carroll’s method, it seems to me: Find the modern in the spiritual, find the spiritual in the modern.

All proceeds for the book are split between the Old Log Church Museum and the Ted Harrison Artist Retreat.

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