I bring greetings, and condolences, as well as the heart-felt best wishes of the people of Trinity United in Oakville. They share in your sense of loss, and in the joy of celebrating the life of our friend David Walker. David provided a calming, healing presence, and sensitive pastoral care and worship leadership to Trinity during a difficult transition time, and that has not been forgotten.
Of all those here that respect, and love David Walker, it may be that I have known him for the shortest time. Five years ago, during my first month as the new minister at Trinity, David dropped in to meet me, and offered, in his kind, non-intrusive way, to be of help and support. That was the beginning of our friendship.
One of the first things we did together was lead a 6 week class combining spiritual practices with drawing and painting. This gave us a chance to work on connections between creativity and spirituality, and making art as a way of prayer. David’s open heart, and generous spirit sought, and found, beauty in people, in situations, and in the natural world around us.
It was breath-taking to watch David make a picture appear on sketch paper, with deft strokes of a pencil, or water-colour brush. It was heart-warming to observe as he worked with the students in the class. He encouraged them to be daring, to try something, and not worry so much about the outcome. Under his gentle tutelage, it was okay to not exactly know what you were doing. He helped them move into territory that was both new, and risky for them- to venture into a world of art-making. David knew that every time we do that- push through the fear and discomfort, and risk moving into a new place, there is the holy possibility that we will be transformed.
When we planned the art and the spirit classes, we took inspiration from a woman named Christine Valters Paintner, who is an artist, and a spiritual director. Christine wrote, “By giving attention to the process of art-making we may begin to notice stirrings within ourselves- resistance, insight, joy, sadness- all of which are food for self-insight and spiritual growth.”
David had a way of listening to people that helped them know it was okay to delve into those deeper places- even the places of confusion, and pain. David listened to me, a lot, and as we grew in our friendship, I was privileged to return the favour.
Not long after we met, David and I began having lunch together once a week, except when I was on vacation, or he and Ann were away. We spent a lot of time at CJ’s Café, at Bronte fish and chips on Lakeshore, at Swiss Chalet. Actually, our most frequent destination for lunch was the food court at Oakville Place- a great place for different food choices, and for people watching.
David was a student of people. His training as a counselor complimented his innate love for, and curiosity about people, how they lived, and how they made sense of their lives.
We had other adventures together. Afternoon movies, and outings at Lowville Park to spend time with the trees and birds. One of my favourite David days was our trip to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg. It was revelatory to look at paintings with a painter- an artist who knew what he was doing, and more profoundly, what they were doing, when they took up their brushes and paints. He told me stories from the lives of some of the group of seven, that shed light on their work.
Our little day trips, and lunch conversations were a small part of David’s larger journey. It was good to travel, even for a short time, with this spiritual pilgrim. He was on a journey with the Divine, towards greater oneness with the Divine. In recent years, an important part of that journey was coming to terms with what it meant to be a retired minister. He had so much to offer, and was sometimes frustrated about not being able find opportunities to exercise his gifts. He was always game to take part in classes or experiments I was trying at Trinity, and his presence always made those events more meaningful.
We served together on the Worship Team for Halton Presbytery and helped to plan and lead worship for the monthly meetings.
One evening we drove together to a presbytery meeting at Hillcrest United Church, way north of Oakville on Trafalgar Road. It became very foggy on the drive. I missed the turn for the church parking lot, because the fog was so thick. We had to pass the church, get turned around, and find our way back- being more vigilant as the fog seemed to be getting thicker. There was something profound about that shared experience of cautiously proceeding, able to see only a short distance ahead, but going on anyway.
In our last conversation, just 3 days before he died, David and I talked about life being a journey through many foggy places, places in which there is much meaning and joy, but also pain and confusion, fear and doubt, and mystery. David lived his way through so many of these times.
Serving in the Navy. Working in the corporate world as an advertising artist. Entering Knox College as a mature student. Caring for those closest to him in all the ups and downs of family life as a husband and father. Being a pastor during times of great upheaval and change in Canadian culture, and in the church. Migrating from the Presbyterian Church to the United Church. Undertaking further study and training in psychology and therapy to be better equipped to help hurting people. In our last conversation we reflected on the journey of life- and a definition of hope we had often discussed in the last couple years.
Real hope is born of having passed through challenging times, and come out the other side- perhaps not intact, certainly effected by the experience, but nonetheless, present and able to carry on.
We talked about death as a passage into mystery, with the hope of emerging into a new place, having been transformed.
David, my friend the painter pilgrim understood the journey is about being open to what is coming, open to the mystery of it all, even when we feel unsure, and perhaps a bit afraid.
Like many, I am proud to say that I have some of David’s art to remember him by. My favourite is a water colour I purchased as an anniversary gift for my wife. It is one he painted up north, of a road winding through a forest in the fall. There is sunlight illuminating the scene, making brilliant the leaves that have begun to turn colour. What I love about this picture is that the sunlight, the warmth and hope in the scene, comes from further up the road. I now look at David’s painting as a prayerful expression of faith, and hope, and trust in what lies ahead.