Saturday, July 19, 2008

What It's About

J2A means Journey To Adulthood, and between July 30th and August 11th, 2008, a group of eleven awesome youth from First United Church took the meaning of these words more literally than usual.

Accompanied by three adults, the J2A group headed down to Sedona and other parts of Arizona for an 11-day pilgrimage. It was the culmination of two years of planning and preparation by the youth, with the strong support of their parents, families, and the First United community.

A pilgrimage is a journey - both physical and spiritual. It is a time when we take ourselves away from our usual comforts and routines, where we find new space within ourselves which allows us to hear God's voice. It's a time for discernment, where we can seek answers to our own personal questions — about our faith, our life, and our future. It's a time for finding that still point within ourselves where God's call to us can be heard, and for deciding how we will respond to it within our own lives.

In the case of the J2A pilgrimage, it was all of those things, plus a whole lot more: it included fun, adventure, an opportunity to experience different cultures (native-American, and Spanish-American), and a chance to encounter nature in some of its most awesome forms.

And to be alone with God.

This blog will allow you to follow along on our journey. We hope you enjoy it!

Use the links to the left to track the different stages of our story.

Who We Are

Here's who we are, and a bit about why each of us is going on the pilgrimage.

"On this pilgrimage, I want to experience peacefulness and find out what my purpose in life is. I also want to see how I would handle things when I am out of my comfort zone and see how far I can push myself."

"I want to go on this pilgrimage mainly to get out of my comfort zone. To leave the things that made me a child so that I discover myself as an adult. I also want to get really involved in nature and have a lot of fun with my friends."

"I would like to be able to have an amazing, well-rounded spiritual experience, one that will change me and help me understand myself and my goals better."

"I want to go on this pilgrimage to experience an adventure and to get away from my everyday life. I want to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do things I’ve never done before. I also hope to get a better understanding of myself and who I want to become."

"I want to find love in the universe. I think if I do that, I'll become a happier person and become closer to God. The desert will provide me with a plentiful supply of unexpected beauty. Ultimately, the desert of Arizona, from the majestic steps to the deep canyons will provide that universal and thus Godly love."

"Arizona is to be a great experience for us all. For me, this pilgrimage is an opportunity to test my limits and get to know myself better when placed within a new environment."

"As many probably know, my goal is to just camp alone for one night and experience nature in Sedona. I hope to maybe connect with God in doing this, and feel some sort of inner peace I wouldn't be able to accomplish just anywhere. I also want tot know my J2A friends on another level, and just accomplish that feeling of trust you can only get with certain people."

"Hi! My name is Robyn Mo-Lian. I’m going on this pilgrimage to hopefully learn something new about myself. I’m also going on this pilgrimage to get away from normal life and experience something new. Hopefully to experience an adventure. During this time I also hope to connect more with myself and with others in J2A."

"On this pilgrimage, I want to have fun and experience things that I couldn't experience back here in Ottawa. I hope to do interesting things that I couldn't normally do and explore places that will stay with me for all my life. To make a long story short, I want to experience something I haven't experienced before."

"I want to go on the pilgrimage so that that I can become more connected to god and life itself. I want to have a better understanding of myself as well as the people around me. I want to be put outside of my comfort zone and really see how the world seems to flow with life."

"I want to experience life to the fullest. I want to get to know others and myself in a special way. I would like to reach and surpass my comfort zone."


JOYCE HARDMAN "This pilgrimage is already happening! It has stretched us and blessed us in the choosing, planning, and fundraising. We have come to know each other and care for each other like a special family. I have enjoyed being a part of these two years of growing into readiness to take on this exciting and sometimes challenging experience together. We have already been supported so generously by the parents and this First United family. Holding us is a field of love that is way bigger than just us fourteen travelers.

I am thrilled to be going to Sedona and the Grand Canyon—two places known to be so awesome that “you have to be there” to get the full impact. I wish for myself and all the gang, moments where God’s presence is palpable: in love among us and offered to us, in little serendipitous moments, in inner whispers of guidance, and in the opulent beauty of nature. I look forward to enjoying these kids just being themselves, responding to each experience."

WENDY SNELGROVE: "I am thrilled to be, in essence, a Godparent to eleven wonderful young people as they journey in this transitional part of their lives; to be a guide and a support as they separate from parents, but still need strength and wisdom from adults. I hope that our pilgrimage will bring them with wisdom about who God is calling them to be. I hope that they will experience abiding love and joy that will sustain them their whole lives."

MURRAY ANGUS: "In many respects, the J2A youth have been on a pilgrimage for the last two years: during that time, they have grown immeasurably in their strengths, their world views, and in their ability to ask questions and to seek their own answers. This pilgrimage to Arizona will be an opportunity for them to continue that questing, and to discover their own capacity for listening to God's voice calling them. As for myself, I'm never far away from questions about my faith and about my directions in life, so I'm looking forward to that time in the desert - alone with the elements, but always, and most assuredly, in the company of God.

JAMES GREGORY is an Ottawa native who fell in love with the red rocks of Sedona the first time he visited in 1995. He moved to Sedona year later and lived there for eight years. He loves to hike in Sedona’s red rock canyons where he claims “there is an adventure waiting around every corner.” He has led hundreds of hikes in the area and has become somewhat of an authority, especially in off-trail hiking. He has invented a simple, easy-to-use system of descending on ropes which received a US patent in 2005. When he is not hiking in Sedona, he is carving pieces of the red rock into fantastic shapes.


THURSDAY - Getting to Sedona


Andy and Jane Hardman (Joyce's brother and sister-in-law) opened up the large country home - and their gazebo - to 18 of us. We arrived in the dark (just before midnight), and left in the dark (4:30 am). They provided us with breakfast for the road, and Andy guided us to the Syracuse airport, where we made our flight right on time.

Everything seems a blur at 4:30 in the morning, but the excitement was palpable!

Our first "teaching time" happened during the stopover in Detroit, where Wendy went over a range of logistical things such as Leaders' jobs, accommodation etc.

It didn't take us long to have an "awe" experience as we drove from Phoenix to Sedona. The red rocks are amazing!


RACHAEL'S CAPTAIN'S LOG! Well, we managed to all get up and dressed and fed by 4:30 AM. And remembering that we’re teenagers, it was quite an accomplishment. Anyways, today we pretty much traveled by car, plane and van. So without too much mix-up we got to Sedona in one piece. We decided to jump right into the game and go to a power spot to watch the sunset. I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced something quite so powerful. But it was a different kind of power, it was quiet and calming. I am so excited for all the other experiences we’re going have.

SEBASTIEN Wow what a great day, from waking up at 4:30 in the morning to taking a wonderfully calm and peacefull hike before dinner. I found the hospitality this morning was great and our hosts were really nice. Then Rachael really helped getting us through the airport and onto the plane. Wow - it sure is hot and beautiful here in Arizona and the closer you get to Sedona the prettier it is. (well, that’s what everyone else said because I was the sleeping navigator.)
The motel is great and we had lots of fun - our hike this evening was short but definitely worthwhile and dinner well I don’t know because we're about to eat but it sure does smell god (don’t correct god)
Mhm Mhm Mhm ☺!!!

FRIDAY - Our First Hike

Our first full day in Sedona began with a wake-up call at 6:30 am. By 7:30 we were out the door and on our way to our first hike. It was easy to see the advantage of going early, as the temperature was a lot cooler in the morning before the sun was high in the sky. We drove off the highway onto a very rugged back road, and then got out and began walking. James, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the land, it's history and its plant life, and we stopped frequently to learn about various things we were passing by. (Remember that you can enlarge any of these photos by double-clicking on them) The hike was to three different levels of the mesa. At the first, we spent some very special time sitting in some ruins under a huge overhand. It was the dwelling left behind, it is said, by the Senagua people who had lived here about 1500 years ago. It was an amazing place to be. Wendy led a teaching time in which we sat in silence for a while, and then put words to the most important questions they have for themselves. We wrote these down on bits of paper, shared them aloud, and then rolled them up and stuck them in the walls of the stone dwelling, like Jewish people do at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. We then continued on to the next level of the hike, up to a higher ledge. For this, we used ropes and grappling hooks to scale a rock face. James is an expert in guiding people through this process, and he brought a fellow guide named Greg to assist him. It was quite the challenge for some of us to scale the rock face, and called forth courage that we hadn't known we had. Once we were all up on the ledge, the view became even more awesome. After a bit of a rest, we then climbed to the third and final level - this time to another ruins that was also located beneath a giant overhang. This was our destination, where we rested, and ate our snacks. By this time the temperature was reaching about 100 F, so it was good to be in the shade of the overhang and to catch the breeze. While we were there, the Youth spotted some caves higher up and climbed up to explore them. It turned into quite a discovery! They found petrified corn cobs left behind by people centuries ago. They also followed the cave till it to them to another entrance down below in the side of the same cliff. Their finding represented a new discovery in the area, so everyone was suitably impressed with their accomplishment!The hike down was a long one (if you look closely, you can see our two vans far below on the bottom left). We stopped at a lookout where we could take in the complete panorama of the valley and its surrounding mesas. Truly breath-taking!!!When we finally got down to the vans, we were SO hot - the temperature was 40+, and the sun was baking us. We had to wait for everyone to get down from the mesas, so while we were waiting, several of us found the only bit of water in this whole, dry valley: it was a pool of water that had collected in a crevice during the last rainfall (whenever that was!) It was fairly brown water, and kind of slimy on the bottom, but such was our desperation to escape the scorching heat that some of us succumbed to temptation and waded in. Aaaahhh - it may not have been pristine, but it sure was cool!! The water was dyed with the colour of the rocks, so we didn't have to buy a t-shirt with that quality in town anymore. Crazy, but true! We ended the day with a meal we cooked for ourselves at the Church of the Red Rocks, a beautiful facility that the minister literally turned over to us to use in the evenings (more pix to come tomorrow). After our meal, we had a ceremony and a teaching while sitting outside the church on the hillside, overlooking Sedona and the various red rocks which surround it. Here we shared the Questions that we had generated earlier in the day, and then burned them in a ceremony using the candles of blessing which had been lit by the parents when we left Ottawa. This ceremony was a symbolic way of putting our personal questions into the hands of God, and by doing so, expressing our belief that a) ) it's possible to enter into a personal relationship with God, and b) that we have faith that God will always be there for us in that relationship. We then went on to discuss the importance of being active seekers in this relationship, and then shared some of the conditions we each felt we needed to be active seekers.

Today it was very hot. Believe it or not but it was 45°C! We went on a 5-hour hike on a trail called “Hole in the Rock.” It was given that name because of holes in a steep rock, made by Senagua people long ago. They are used for climbing. We all managed to safely climb the rock and some overcame great fears in doing this. We saw 2 ruins made by the Sanagua people about 1500 years ago. We found some broken pieces of pottery, which were used as tools. We also explored and discovered a small cave in a rock, where we found mummified corn. After the hike, some of us decided to go from a nice swim in a small hole full of very dirty water. It was that hot! After, we had never appreciated a shower so much before. We also had our first visit to the nice church that is letting us cook our food in it. The view from the sanctuary is beautiful.

SATURDAY - Our Second Hike

Wow - what a day!!! We stretched ourselves past many of our personal limits today.

Joyce warmed us up for the task by leading us in a yoga session before we left.
The next stretch came when we headed out for our next big hike - and what a hike it was!
We did our morning ceremony and reflection inside an ancient ruin underneath the mountain's overhang. We sang together ("We Are Pilgrims on a Journey"), and shared our experiences during the climb up of all the different things we paid attention to.After our ceremony, we worked our way along the edge of this giant rock wallIt was a test of everyone's courage, but we had each other's support, as well as the support of our guide, James Gregory, and his assistant, Karen.Our final destination was the "hole in the wall" high up on the cliff. Crawling through it is said to be akin to being reborn into a new world. For some, the birth was more difficult that others. Joyce said she had been born feet-first the first time, so she wanted to do it head-first this time. Here, Seb emerges from the "birth canal"This lookout point gave us a fantastic view of the whole canyon
On the way down, we came across some desert mistletoe, so Joyce and Murray thought they should test it out. It worked pretty well, but Murray thought it needed more testing. (Wendy wanted it noted here that she misses Wendy Ann!)

We got back at the hotel by early afternoon, where we rested and recovered from the immense heat (+40F). Once again, we ended the day by going to the Church of the Red Rocks and making our dinner in their kitchen. At supper we had an intense debate about how to use our free time on Sunday. Ben moderated it and made sure we came to a clear decision. We didn't have a talking stick, so made use of a salad dressing bottle to keep the conversation under control.

On our way back to the hotel after dark, we stopped at a lookout above the town, and we all just lay on our backs on the ground, looking up at the immense night sky with it's millions of starts. As we lay there, Murray talked about how a relationship with God is like any other relationship, in that we cannot take it for granted; rather, we have to appreciate it as a gift, and be continually thankful for it in all its aspects. So we each shared what we were thankful for that particular day.

And was there ever a lot!!!!


RACHAEL'S CAPTAINS LOG! Well today we did another hike and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Well, I didn’t have much trouble with the rocks, but some members of the group were having a really hard time with the heat. So I decided that I could be useful bringing up the rear and making sure no one got left behind. I really enjoyed it and I felt really good about it afterwards. I was also really proud of some members of the group because they over came their fears. At the top of the hike we did some of our own exploring on some hikes, and that put me out of my comfort zone, which was an adventure. All in all, it was a day where everyone faced their fears in one way or another. Well done everyone!

KOLEY'S INCOMING TRANSMISSION… all is well in the distant lands of Arizona. We have all survived mentally, physically and emotionally which is quite a feat considering all that we have done in the past 24 hours. From waking up early to facing fears in a hike, we have all done something to test ourselves. In a particular stretch of the hike we had to shimmy along a rock face. Several of us, myself included, were terrified of this due to fear of heights. In the end we all made it, each with our own sense of accomplishment. I am so proud of us all.