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Postcards from the Valley

The United Church moderator offers his own stumbles with humility and tenderness

By Donna Sinclair

Postcards from the Valley: Encounters with Fear, Faith and God
By David Giuliano
(United Church Publishing House) $12.95

The evening following his installation as moderator of the United Church, Rt. Rev. David Giuliano felt a lump on his left temple. “Be not afraid,” he had earlier told those choosing him to lead their beloved church; but he himself was soon battling cancer and “experimenting full-time with fear.” A writer to the core, he took to jotting field notes, mining wisdom from deep apprehension much as gold is mined from the rock near his home in Marathon, Ont.

The result is a collection of shining essays — talismans against the nauseating, heart-thumping worries about the future we all experience.

Fear, Giuliano insists, is only part of who we are, even though it feels all-consuming. We are also “beloved,” he writes. “You can be faithful and afraid at the same time, but you have to choose — sometimes from moment to moment — between those incompatible masters and allow faith to shape you.”

Postcards, then, is more about faith than fear. Giuliano takes pleasure in the wisdom of little children, in the Lake Superior shoreline and in the northern pulp and mining town where he has “stayed put” against all advice from peers. These are joys tied inextricably to hope. His is a “Holy Saturday spirituality,” which commits one’s life “to the flow of love against the tide of death and hatred.”

That love is marked by relentless honesty. Offering his own stumbles with humility and tenderness, Giuliano writes about Aboriginal issues, the Middle East, family life and struggling churches.

The God illuminated by this prose is also tender, but keeps God’s own counsel about human suffering. Giuliano chooses to let that mystery be. At one point, he imagines God, impressed with the way “all these people are praying for David,” deciding to change course: “What was I thinking when I gave him that tumour? Abracadabra-shazam!”

This healing lightning bolt, says Giuliano, “doesn’t seem to be happening.” Unoffended by its absence and slowly regaining strength at the time of writing, Giuliano wants to “remember the precious gifts from this,” he says. “I want to remember that God tabernacles in weakness. . . . I want to remember that God’s love does not depend on my capacity to take that love in.”

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