Cathy Barker

Cathy Barker

This Christmas will be unlike any other for my husband and me. But I'll get back to that.

As newly-retired pastors, we are traveling quite a bit, and this fall we marveled at the beauty of southern Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

Canyons of all colors dazzled me. We love our national parks!

The distinct layers of the Grand Canyon change dramatically in the light and shadows of sunrise and sunset. We were a little late arriving at the rim to see the sunrise, and commented that many people were going the opposite way. Apparently they had seen the show and were heading to breakfast.

We pressed on, and noted that the sun was barely up amid bright clouds -- sunrise must have been lovely. But then we faced west, and watched the light progress, illuminating the strata. This was the show we came for.

First we saw the white cap rock officially known as Kaibab limestone. The fascinating names continue: the golden Toroweap formation, then the red Supai layers, the brown Bright Angel Shale, on down to the deep, 2-billion-year-old Vishnu group. There are more delightful names, but I can't remember them all. In the presence of these magnificent, ancient rocks, I praised the creator God who unleashed this beauty-making world.

From Marble Canyon, northeast of the Grand Canyon, I could see the lowest steps of the Grand Staircase. It’s part of the beautiful Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a vast sequence of cliffs of notable colors. The Pink Cliffs we admired in Bryce Canyon are way at the top, then down to Gray Cliffs, White Cliffs, and finally the Vermilion and Chocolate Cliffs, where I watched another sunrise illumine surprise colors and layers. Alone on a rock I sang my praise and gratitude to God.

Some of our visits were in official Dark Sky areas far from ambient city light, where the immense, sparkling Milky Way dominates the sky.

How did the ancients identify constellations, with so many stars visible? I am in awe of their many abilities.

But I digress. I really wanted to talk geology! One of the most fascinating phenomena to me is the glacial erratic. This is a boulder, usually granite, that was carried by a glacier to a place far from its origin. We saw them in Utah -- some are enormous and it's easy to see that they don't match their surroundings. We have them in Montana too.

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For me, erratics are a metaphor for pastors. You may chuckle, thinking of the silly erratic behavior of some of your favorite spiritual leaders! But what I mean is that we are plopped into a place that is different from where we come from. We are clearly "not from around here" and subject to the scrutiny of the native population.

There are blessings and woes that come with being an erratic. One of the woes is that we often don't get to spend sacred holidays with our extended families, if they are dispersed like mine.

This Christmas my husband and I will be with my sister and some of her clan. For the first time in nearly 40 years we will wake up Christmas morning to greet extended family with joyful hugs. I harbor no regret about the life I led. I only suggest that you pray for your spiritual leaders in this holy season. Without trying to guess what their needs are, treat them with kindness. You have been chosen as their big adopted family.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, blessings on all your celebrations!

The Rev. Cathy Barker is a retired pastor with United Church of Christ.

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