All Saints

Preaching, Theology

All Saints Sunday — November 2nd, 2014 — the Rev. James Joiner from Christopher Craun on Vimeo.

One of the saints who passed from our world to the next this year was Frederick Arnold Lindkvist. He was born on October 11th, 1940 in Brooklyn, NY, and died on March 7th, 2014 in Bangor, PA. I didn’t know Fred as much as I knew his partner, Bill. Of the two of them, Bill was the public face, while Fred could often be found smiling quietly in the background, or passing with their dog from one corner of their vast property to the next while Bill entertained and educated guests. Together, the two created a 17 acre megalith park on the slopes of the Pocono mountains. A megalith is exactly what is sounds like, a giant rock. Their park contains dozens of them, carefully placed, free-standing and arranged in circles, the largest of which juts 20 feet above the ground and weighs approximately 45 tons. Bill was inspired to create the park after receiving a vision while visiting the Scottish island of Iona in 1967. He wanted to create an open space which welcomed people of all faiths and traditions interested in renewal and transformation,” a so called “salon by the side of the road” where “tired sinners and reluctant saints could drop by and share their experiences and ideas.” And he wanted to do it with giant rocks. He would not have been able to create the park without Fred. Fred provided support for his partner’s vision, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Fred was one of the architects and constructors who helped shape the buildings on the property, particularly the stone chapel dedicated to St. Columba. Fred helped establish the foundation that supports and manages the park now, and he managed their finances for many years. One friend described their relationship this way: Bill was the fire, Fred made sure it was tended. Now, like so many, their partnership saddles the thin line of death. Bill lives in this world, and I can only imagine Fred living with him still, in the land they worked together, in the companionship they shared, in the assurance of being tended, still, by unseen hands.

The name of the park they made together is Columcille, gaelic for “church dove”, or better known in English as Columba, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, evangelist to the Picts, and founder of the abbey on Iona. He is one of two patron saints of the megalith park, and the stone chapel where Fred’s remains are now interred is named after him. The other is St. Oran, for whom the bell tower of the park is named. Now, St. Oran is the lesser known predecessor, friend and assistant of St. Columba, his feast day is October 27th, but its not one we observe on our calendar. Oran was the most senior of the men Columba first sailed to Iona with, and he helped Columba navigate its strange physical and spiritual terrain. When Columba and his men tried building an abbey on the island, their attempts were frustrated as each day’s constructions were inexplicably decimated by night. They received a vision saying that their attempts would continue to be thwarted until they buried someone alive in the foundation. Legend has it that Oran offered himself for the job, so they sealed him over in a wall, and finally the foundation stood. But three days later, Columba was possessed to dig Oran back out again. He found Oran still living, not only living but speaking of another world he had visited during his internment. He spoke of revelations that there was no hell waiting after death, nor a heaven either, but a peculiar world of intermingling spirits. He finished his revelations with a bit of advice for the younger abbot, “the way you think it is may not be the way it is at all.” Incensed by this, St. Columba promptly had St. Oran sealed back up in the wall.

I first set foot on Columcille during their annual celebration of Samhain, the ancient Gaelic holiday marking the end of harvest and believed, as many similar celebrations across the globe are, to be time bridged between worlds attended by the spirits of the dead. I was twenty years old, attending a retreat at the neighboring Presbyterian conference center, which was intended to be an interfaith gathering for LGBT young adults. The night of Samhain, a group of us wandered through the darkened megalith park with masked crowds bearing torches that joined in streams of light down the hillside, pausing at various points for litanies and invocations, ending at a mountain pond where a bier was lit ablaze and pushed out into the tarn’s still waters as a remembrance of loved ones lost to the other side. For some of the Christians in our group, this was the final straw. One of the contingents in our interfaith gathering came from an MCC church, a denomination which varies greatly from congregation to congregation and which can play host to some of the more conservative evangelicals among lgbt Christians. They were, I think, expecting the whole retreat to be a little more Christ centered, and had already balked at some of the more spiritually inclusive elements of our time together, not to mention the sheer number of candles lit for our ancestors. A flaming bier in the middle of a tarn was simply too much, and that night the Christians and the Pagans erupted into a huge fight. When dawn broke on our last day together, we were led down into a final ceremonial walk through Columcille, at the end of which we were treated to Bill and Fred and their story. I believe that the presence of these two men were a major part of what reconciled our fractured group. To a gathering of twenty-something-year-old religious fanatics, each certain of their right to be completely offended by the other, the sight of these two old men who so gracefully straddled different worlds of spirituality and custom, even life and death, was transformative. They ended their time with us with St. Oran’s reminder: “the way you think it is may not be the way it is at all.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Fred was meek, but also mischievous. He was quiet and also strong. Just as he tended the earth he inherited with grace and care, I can only imagine he is entrusted to even greater pastures now. He lived his life with Bill as a pair of peacemakers, and as children of God death cannot separate them. Nor can it separate any of us from the great multitude of saints who have supported and tended us in all our many years on this earth, or for all our endless years together in the world to come. Amen.

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