Faces on Faith: Roses in the wilderness
Many years ago, when my daughter was still a toddler, she and I headed north to spend a week in Chesuncook, Maine.
It was once an organized municipality. Its residents provided services fort the lumberjacks who felled timber and floated logs downlake. An historic marker in the village reads: “The ring of the lumberman’s ax was first heard in this area about 1837. By 1840, some land had been cleared at the site of the day village and a dam was built at the foot of the lake to float logs to Ripogenus Lake and down the Penbscot to Bangor.”
By mid-century, Henry David DThoreau, on one of his wilderness treks, passed through Chesuncook and found a small, thriving community.
In 1900, there were 65 residents, and by 1920, the population had grown to almost 250. But those times are past. The last logs floated downlake in 1971 and when I visited in the 80s, less-than-a-handful populated the village year-round, catering to the needs of campers and hunters.
What grabbed my attention in that remote place were the roses. Beautifully cultivated red and yellow roses–right in the middle of the huge wilderness that is northern Maine. And a church.
A crisply painted, white frame church building, complete with pulpit, pump organ and real pine paneling.
At that time–and for all I know, today as well–the little church was open during the summer months for worship. A committee of concerned folks saw to it that preachers were provided weekly.
The visiting clergy were given the use of the parsonage next door in exchange for their sermons.
It came as something of a surprise to canoeists, as they pulled up onto Graveyard Point to see the church’s cross-topped steeple high above the shoreline.
Probably it was not so much that they were surprised by the thought that God is present in the Northwoods–every sunrise, every star-filled night, every raging storm is a sure reminder of that.
No, what surprised them was this very human symbol of that presence. There in the midst of great splendor, where towering pines seem to point heavenward, there was a building, with its painted cross, saying humans too must offer their praise.
Despite the wonderment it brought to some folks, it fit. It was not foreign to its surroundings, but rather, grew out of them It was symbolic, perhaps, of human stewardship at its best.
Men, women, and nature itself, all of creation joining together to praise the Creator.
And the roses. They too surprised visitors. They surprised me! How can you grow such beautiful roses way up here in the wilderness I asked.
How can you grow them in the city, was the pointed reply. Perhaps even more than the old white church, the roses proclaimed that men and women are not to be strangers in the wilderness, but rather a part of it–stewards of its resources.
For when creatures and creation are in harmony, then God is exalted.