A Few Words for a Big Land

My body decided that our day off was a great day to come down with a sinus infections, I am taking a merciful break on the couch while Jared takes the girls off to a playground. It’s -17 and windy, but it’s sunny, so it’s time to play!

The October Gloom has finally dissipated, and we’ve had several sunny days recently – accompanied, as sunshine usually is, by wind. It’s definitely “early winter” now. There’s been snow on the ground for weeks, and windchill is often down to between -20 and -30, with high temps in the negative teens.

Thanks to the end of daylight savings time, the sun is now down by around 3:30 p.m.

I found the speed of the light’s change intimidating a few weeks ago. Now I am getting a little more used to it.

When we get up in the morning, the sky is only starting to get light. Soon we will always be getting up in darkness. But for now, by the time breakfast is over, the sun is up. I like to go up to the south-facing window halfway up the stairwell and look out over the bay. On a clear day, I can see two or three ridges of rocky hills in the distance. When the sun first peeks out, the snow glows pink. Soon after, it turns gold, then we have an absolute blaze of sunshine until mid-afternoon.

The word that keeps coming back to me is “liminality.” That means in-between-ness. Iqaluit feels like such a liminal place.
The bay is in between the water and the land, with long tidal flats that are neither land nor ocean.
As an airplane hub, it’s an entry point, in between the arctic communities and “the south,” i.e. the rest of the world.
It’s in between past and future, home to a people still figuring out how they will integrate modern life and old ways.
It’s in between being a small town and a big city, with the problems and advantages of both.
It’s in between settlement and wilderness, sitting on the edge of human habitation.
It’s in between light and darkness, the slant of the sunshine always reminding us that we are close to the twilight.

I’ve always loved liminal times and liminal places.

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When we were getting ready to come up here, I was able to take a rare moment to really be quiet and talk to Jesus. I wanted to know if he had anything to say to me as we were preparing to go, some assurance that we were doing the right thing, and not just being carried along on a tide of half-reflected decisions.

In my imagination, Jesus took me to the top of a ridge overlooking Iqaluit. He was wearing a caribou parka, sealskin pants, sealskin boots – full traditional Inuit winter gear. And he was sitting, looking not back toward the city, but out over the land. And he said one thing: “You are going to love it here.”

Last week, when I got some time to myself, I took Bible, journal, and book and set out in search of the Starbucks. When I failed to find the Starbucks, I headed further out, to highest place I knew how to drive to. I drove out past the plateau, up the hill to the dome, and parked overlooking a ridge. Yes, this was the place I had imagined.

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Jesus was waiting for me there, and we had a good talk.

Of course, he’s been here for a very long time. He’s known this landscape since long before the ancient ancestors of the Inuit migrated across the Bering Strait. He knows the ways of the caribou, the arctic fox and hare, and he watches the seal, narwhal, and beluga play.

Our lifestyle here in Iqaluit is very comfortable. We have access to everything we need, and practically any southern comfort we could want. But I am conscious that, for most of human history here, this has been a very hard place to live. The Inuit carved out a life here, and from what I am told, it was equal parts thoroughly difficult and deeply good.

There is something very real and true about that. The whole world now is in a liminal place – a time in-between the already and not yet. We have the potential for deep joy as we have access to God through Christ, but in a world still ruled by the Enemy, we still struggle unceasingly against world, flesh, and devil.

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When life is all continuous plenty and prosperity, ease and access, it is too easy to forget the not-yet. When the landscape is so lushly green for most of the year, life and potential energy are everywhere, we have choice and variety and all sorts of freedom. It’s too easy to think that this world is all there is, that it’s enough. There is plenty of poverty in lusher climes as well, but in the cultural corner that I grew up in, we hide from it as much as possible.

Here, every source of life is precious. Every species of plant is known and valued. Every part of an animal is useful. Every season of the year has its activities, its celebrations and its hardships. There may only be a few hours of daylight in winter, but on a clear day we will take those hours and play outside in our snowsuits, or nap on the couch in the sunshine.

At Urbana 2006, a speaker told a story of a poor Christian woman in Sri Lanka, who had lost her home to the tsunami. An aid worker didn’t have anything to give her except some bread, but she took it with joy, looked up at the worker and said, with complete sincerity, “All this and Christ also?”

Having little of a good thing can make us bitter, resentful, or despairing. Or, it can lead us to supreme joy in the giver of every good gift. We can look down and be sad. Or we can look up, and find the veil between us and heaven is thinner.

And, I can look to the seat next to me, and see Jesus right there with me, and talk to him about things. Ask him for help in all things. Remember to seek his will in all things. He is always with me, but I am striving to be more with-him.

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I confess, I have been afraid to write about this, as it seems arrogant to draw such deep conclusions about a place when we’ve only lived here a few months, and still have so much to learn. I don’t want to have just the pithy insights of a newcomer, but that’s what I still am. So if it seems so, forgive me. In order to settle into our new home, I have to find where I fit into the meaning I find here. For me, that means finding words. This will be an ongoing process. I want to really belong here, but that will take a long time.

Now, we are more settled into the basics of our family life and work, and the real work is beginning: meeting people, investing in relationships, seeking God’s will for what he wants us to do day by day. This is the hard work, the long work, the type of work we are inexperienced with. But it’s also what we came here to do. So it’s good.

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