Over twenty years ago, three of us went on a paddling trip, visiting places in the Broken Group Islands, located in Barclay Sound, on the west side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It was long enough ago that the area had not yet become the Mecca for boaters that it is today. We saw only two other boats - a power boat on the move and a sailboat anchored in a quiet cove-the entire week we spent paddling our kayaks from island to island. We made our journey in the very early spring, when wind and rain there are plentiful, which may have kept visitors at bay for weeks to come.
Alan, a close friend and frequent paddling and climbing companion of mine, and I were paddling in a decked canoe. John, a friend from Lummi Island, paddled a double kayak by himself; his front cockpit was loaded with whatever creature-comforts he could carry with him: the usual camping gear augmented by two stoves, a fancy array of cooking utensils, gourmet food in abundance and several books. We had agreed to accompany one another on the long crossings as a safety measure but to part ways when Alan and I wanted to spend our time visiting the other islands and exploring their interiors.
Fresh water was hard to find, but we had identified beforehand those islands where it could be accessed with enough of a flow to fill our plastic, gallon, milk jugs. A few of the islands had primitive cabins on them, but I never learned how they came to be built there or what had been their original intended use. Most of them had become residences for local wildlife, so we slept away from them in our own tents.=A0 Occasionally we found caves at water level on some of the islands, and tried entering them in the canoe, but the erratic fluctuations in water level inside the caves made for hazardous exploration.
Wildlife consisted of a wide variety of sea birds, shellfish, and scattered colonies of wild mink, who seemed completely unafraid of us and often chased one another around our feet. One day we visited Jaques Island, where a rather nice cabin had been built, which Alan was anxious to investigate. I chose to sit on the beach, where I could watch my boat and all its gear. It was not yet time for lunch, so I sat enjoying a rare, clear day of sunshine. Suddenly I heard what I thought was the engine of a single-engine, propeller airplane, but I looked around for it in vain.
What I did manage to see was a pair of eagles circling very high in the sky. They flew at one another, locked talons, and began a head-first downward spiral, circling together with their wings outstretched. As they gained speed, the air crossing their feathers created the extraordinarily loud noise that I had thought was an airplane. Just before they reached the surface of the water, they broke their grip on one another and began to gain altitude together individually. Once high in the sky again, they began their mating dance all over, while I watched with unabashed admiration and little modesty.
This past Sunday, many Christians celebrated Pentecost - so named because it occurred fifty days after Easter - the time when the early church was transformed from disciples hiding in confusion and fear to evangelists directed and motivated by the Spirit of God, the Advocate promised by Jesus in John's Gospel. The second chapter of the book of Acts describes what happened in this way:"They heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven. Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages."
In his book, "Tenders of the Sacred Fire," R. Robert Cueni explains what happened next:"In less than 100 years the fire of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was carried as far as Spin to the west, India to the east, and Ethiopia to the south. It subsequently took several hundred years for the Gospel to arrive in the northern reaches of Europe, but it did. Down through the centuries the flames of the Fire burned brightly.
"The Christian faith gained and its ranks grew because people who were attracted to Christ had their lives changed. When people were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they came to know that peace which passes all understanding. The followers of Christ were known to demonstrate enormous courage under duress. Roman authorities tried to stamp out the Church by persecuting those who claimed Christ as Savior. The plan backfired. Those who were torn apart by wild animals in Roman arenas for the entertainment of the emperor and his entourage faced their deaths so courageously that others were attracted to the faith rather than repulsed by it."
As I think back on the rare experience of my being able to see and to hear the two eagles in such powerful flight, I wonder also how rare the flight of God's Spirit is in us today.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church on Clatsop Plains in Warrenton.