Writer, Church leader, Eccentric Nut, Marketer

I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

18 September 2014

The Hill of Crosses


"The rage of love turns inward to become prayers of devotion.  These prayers are the constant road across the wilderness. These prayers are the memory of God"
Paul Simon ~ The Cool River 

"The cross is in the ballpark"
Paul Simon ~ Obvious Child

12 km north of the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai, kind of in the middle of nowhere, there is hill covered with an estimated half million crosses.  During the sunny Saturday afternoon of the Brantford International Jazz Festival, one of them unexpectedly made it's way into my hands... hand delivered by a member of our Canadian Armed Forces.  Why? Because he just felt like he needed to.

The Hill of Crosses is a bit of mysterious phenomenon.  Nobody manages it.  It just sort of... IS.  In the mid-1800's during a time of conflict between the Russians and the Polish, local people began to climb to the top the hill to pray.  They simply started doing ... something.  Putting crosses in the ground was that something.  Over the years of strife, they've been removed, replaced, removed again and replaced again. 

Lithuanian professor Viatanis Rimkis was one of the quarter million Lithuanians killed or exiled by Joseph Stalin. He says,

"In the Soviet time, the hill became a symbol of resistance. Through the cross, through religion, it was a struggle against occupation, against outside ideology - a struggle for freedom. It was like the cross became a weapon that was invincible."

Local sculptor Aleksas Stepanovicus says of the crosses that adorn this hill,

"If trees have roots, they are firm in the ground but the branches stretch to the sky. So the cross has the same form as a tree. I understand that the cross is like a link between earth and heaven."

Corporal Ken Galbraith grew up around the corner from me in the Brantford neighborhood of Brier Park.  Before he became an honorable member of our military... he  used to just be, "Kenny."  We've connected again in recent years and I was fortunate enough to spend part of last Remembrance Day with him.  As he was serving in Eastern Europe, he came across this hill.  "I couldn't get you out of my head" he said.  "I just knew I needed to bring you a cross from this place."

Corporal Galbraith selected a cross with the Lithuanian words, "dieve, saugok ir globok musu seima" written on it.  It means "God keep and care for our family."  We shared a very special afternoon reconnecting in Harmony Square as humans searching after truth, men, and friends.  

As fascinating as the Lithuanian cross and it's hill of origin is, the object or location itself hold no extra power.  God is just as alive right there in our Harmony Square interaction of love, prayer, friendship and faith as he is on that hill.  The souvenir cross and the hill itself are simply a visual depiction of the outcry of the human soul to God that happens on hills in our own neighborhoods.

Some evangelicals may be tempted decry the hill as people merely attempting to substantiate prayer... in lieu of faith.  But these crosses are not a penny in a fountain.  They aren't whims, fleeting hopes or casual wishes.  They are a powerful representation of a group of people, over generations, doing what we still do today.  We try to find... someway... anyway... to connect heaven to earth.  We all have that longing.  That's faith.

"Without faith it's impossible to please God"
Hebrews 11:6 

 President Theodore Rosevelt's hero was his father who had died many years prior.  His first night in the White House, taking over for the recently deceased William Mckinley, was the day after his father's birthday.   "What would I not give for him to see me here in the White House" he said upon entering. Then he noticed that the flowers on the dinner table were the same variety of roses that his father had worn every day in his button hole. He, as he began on his way to becoming one of America's most storied leaders, stated to his dinner guests,

"I feel as if my father's hand were on my shoulder.  As if there were a special blessing over the life I am to lead here."  

Sometimes God uses roses.  Sometimes God uses a hill of crosses.  Sometimes God uses a childhood friend coming half way across the earth.   I'm almost 40 and I don't totally understand it, but I do know...  that God is trying to get our attention, talk with us, and bring a little bit of heaven to earth.

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