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Christmas at Canaan.

Can tranquility be found in-a large city? Surprisingly, Phoenix, Ariz., a burgeoning metropolis of 1,038,000. offers an extraordinary place of renewal.

Canaan in the Desert, quietly nestled just north of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, features a radiant, botanical Prayer Garden that attracts peace seekers of all ages nationwide. The garden is- especially active, during Holy Week and Advent, and the Canaan experience at Christmas is, unforgettable.

At Canaan, graceful paloverdes and acacias 'shade winding paths where once lay desert. Ramadas and alcoves adorned by natural flora frame stone reliefs depicting Biblical scenes from Gethsemane to the Resurrected Christ. Over all reigns an atmosphere of peace. The Phoenix-Scottsdale "Visitor's Guide" suggests, "Visit this scenic, peaceful ,prayer garden with beautiful, sculptured reliefs."

For 25 years, Canaan in the Desert has extended hospitality to everyone. Daily at sunup its Wide iron gate glides open, welcoming' visitors into the well-kept ten-acre grounds.

"I use my lunch break to go through the Garden," says a Phoenix commuter. It means more to me than mealtime, I need the quietness."

The Bethlehem Grotto, a cavelike shelter for the manger, rests against a hillgck about 50 feet. inside the gate, At.Christmastime, children especially enjoy sitting with the little Jesulein (baby Jesus) and joining the sisters in singing Canaan Christmas songs.

"The joyful singing is what drew me there," says Holly Coors, a frequent Canaan visitor. "It's a treasure to be there at Christmas, or anytime from December through the middle of January."

Although the Sisterhood offers tours throughout, the year, most people come alone to sit in undisturbed contemplation near one of the ten inspirational settings.

Arizona's Prayer Garden is one of eight established around the world. by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary; rounded by Basilea Schlink.

As president of the Women's Division of the German Student Christian Youth Movement during World War II, Basilea Schlink, a Lutheran, traveled and lectured, advocating Christian witness and support for Jews. She was twice. interrogated by the Gestapo. During the bombing of her hornetown of Darmstadt in 1944, she began regular prayer meetings with her students. In 1947, she and her lifetime, friend Erika Madauss (later known as Mother Martyria)rounded the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, naming their permanent Darmstadt homesite Canaan, after the Biblical land.

Four decades later, 15 Canaan branches exist around the world. Prayer Gardens (or "Little Canaans") have been established in Australia, Brazil, Paraguay, East and West Canada, Norway, Taiwan, and the United States. They are built solely by volunteer labor and donated money and materials.

"Canaan was a garden of prayer before there was a Prayer Garden," says Dean McBride, a Phoenix businessman who volunteered countless-hours reshaping the desert into a botanical sanctuary and witnessed the sisters' efforts as they accomplished the impossible.

Early in August 1981, the resin and fiberglass reliefs for the garden arrived from the Motherhouse in Germany. "It was a big mountain," the sisters wrote in their chronicles. They had no idea where to begin. How could they "bed" the reliefs? With wood? No, it must be stones.

Natural stones cost $150 to $300 per ton, even for mixed quality, and many tons would be needed, but the sisters had only $200.

Just about that time, a rocky hill was leveled for a new building site not a mile away. It seemed too good to be true. Holding their breath. two sisters went-to ask permission to collect some stones. "Sisters," said the construction boss, "just take all you want." Perfect "garden stones" choice, colorful, expensive kinds--at no cost!

Sister Daniela remembers collecting stones at this construction site in the middle of busy Shea Boulevard.

"We started at 5:00 a.m. because it was so hot. One sister got. a crowbar and began to break down rock. We hurried to the bottom to fill Mr. McBride's truck. Cars would slow down. People began to watch and cheer' some offered to help."

"It was the greatest thing I ever saw." McBide says. "The sisters would form a chain, picking up and passing tons of rock, to the pickup."

Unaccustomed to desert heat, the sisters began work before sunrise and often continued after dark. They gratefully took note of help that began to come: friends from Colorado and a local Mexican who had learned stone,laying 25 years before.

No one imagined how much cement would be-needed for the foundations. Sister Josepha says the slow work became just too hard. My heart ached fo see. Sister Bliss mixing cement and sand and water in a wheelbarrow. Far away I could hear a cement wagon, I ran to the garage and just drove toward the sound."

Sister Donata describes the outcome: There she went in the station wagon. I thought, 'That it be a wild goose chase.' In just a few minutes she drove through the gate, behind her a huge truck with the cement mixer rolling in back. A woman driver jumped out and said. "Where do you want it, Sister?"

"And the special thing was," Sister Deborah adds, "that this lady was just thinking where could she dump her leftover cement, because it should not harden in her truck.

It was just the amount we needed then."

Another sister gives the epilogue: "That's the same as Mother Basilca shares in her autobiography, that the father always provides every need where Jesus is lifted up."

"Every need" includes landscaping. After prayer stations were embedded. friends donated bushes. trees, and money. A nursery offered olive trees and sundry plants that soon were thriving.

Extra soil came from people building swimming pools. Sister Elcona begins another episode: "We just let them start dumping. Ugh.! It's a miracle anything can grow on it. Mr. McBride got a tractor and formed hills--really a work of art. The beautiful shape of Golgotha--he just had an image in his mind."

October 1, 1981, is the day the Sisters will never forget. At 7:00 a.m.. everyone gathered at the Garden's construction site for 'the removal of the wooden frame bracing Gethsemane's stone grotto, where the statue-of the praying Christ was to be placed. It was the sisters' first attempt at stone work. and they,weren't sure the cement would hold.

Sister Donata confesses having doubts that morning, but not about the masonry. The sisters had heard about the other new Prayer Gardens in Norway and eastern and western Canada. In each garden a rainbow had appeared. "But we'll never have a rainbow here in the desert." she remembers thinking.

Only a few clouds floated in the distance. Then to eVeryone's surprise, a double rainbow appeared.

"We took away the braces from the grotto," Sister Josepha adds. "Then we just stood there in awe." As the little group worshiped together, the rainbow arched the western sky for almost an hour.

The Prayer Garden-stations were finished on October 17, and opened thereafter. the sisters say, the place of refuge began performing its. job. Sister Rebekka remembers the day their mailman told them about a 17-year-old boy who had fatally shot himself. The sisters went to the grieving parents and invited them to the Prayer Garden. Reluctant at first. they decided to come later that day.

"With hearts full of sadness, we all walked quietly. from one station to the next. Peace began to show on their faces." Rebekka recalls. "Two hours passed .... They left with tender smiles. talking home books of comfort and encouragement."

There are many such stories.

Several years later. when the planning of a new highway threatened the Canaan property, hundreds of letters poured into Phoenix from coast to coast, Canada, and abroad appealing to the mayor and his committee. The unanimous cry was to save the "oasis of peace?"

The words of one visitor express the sentiment of many. In serious need of help, her counselor sent her to the Prayer Garden. After many hours alone in the Garden, she came to the sisters, smiling through tears. "I came for a cup of water." she said. and I found a spring."
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Title Annotation:Phoenix, Arizona
Author:Harper, Katherine
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:1337
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