A small ceramic Christmas tree sits on a table in our front hall.
It’s not much of a tree—about 12 inches high, dark green, with whitish snow flaked on the ends of its branches. A light bulb inside shines out through coloured plastic plugs stuck into holes in the branches.
Over the years, we’ve lost about a dozen of the plastic plugs. The light inside now shines directly out through several holes.
It never was particularly pretty, I suppose. But it’s special for me. Because it was given to me with love.
It came from Lorraine Wicklow over 30 years ago. The next summer, Lorraine died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
As far as I know, she had no family, no relatives.
Perhaps I was her family. She used to drop in at my office, back in the days when I worked at the United Church’s national offices in Toronto. She always arrived at the very end of the day, just as I was loading up my briefcase to go home.
Internally, I sighed. I knew this would be a long evening.
“Just a minute, Lorraine,” I would say. Then I’d call Joan to say, “Lorraine just dropped in.”
Joan understood, and took supper out of the oven.
“I mustn’t keep you,” Lorraine always said. But she did, anyway.
Lorraine’s theology couldn’t have been farther from mine. She attended a fundamentalist church. She had visions. She told me about heaven; about streets paved with gold and gates made of jewels; about the people she met there and their message for me.
She was, I suppose, a revelation to me. When I described her visions to Gordon Nodwell, the minister at the United Church down the street from my office, he said, “That’s straight out of Revelation.”
So I read Revelation. Thanks to Lorraine, I became acquainted with several parts of the Bible that I had avoided before.
She’d relate another of her visions. “Do you believe that?” she would ask, leaning forward earnestly.
“Not really,” I would reply.
And I would try to explain, as well as I could, my understandings of modern biblical scholarship. Of the historical and cultural assumptions that shaped the biblical text. Of the conflicts between the biblical story and our growing knowledge of science, psychology, sociology.
She countered with a text, invariably from the King James Version. For her, the Word of God—the capitals are deliberate—trumped any other understanding.
We lived in different worlds. We listened to each other. But we talked past each other.
Still, whether I understood her or not, I know she lived her faith, 100 per cent. She forgave me for my heresies, because that’s what Jesus would have done.
And, sometimes, after I had stumbled through an explanation of why I believed what I did, she would say, “You know, when you talk to me that way, you almost shine.”
Lorraine has been dead for many years now. But her little ceramic tree still shines in the darkness of our front hall.
As long as I have that tree, she too still shines in my memories.
Author Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.