Someone once told me that when you land in Antarctica, all you see is white snow for as far as the eye can see. I was told that it was a blinding, shapeless landscape where the horizon fades into nothingness. That no colors escaped the snow. And that the ice was cold.
Well, the truth is that Antarctica actually is cold. But not as cold as one would expect. It’s a dry cold, so it could be single digit temperatures and still nice enough to wear a jacket. Or a sweater and a hat. Add some gloves and you’ll be good to go on a hike. If it’s windy, you may want an additional couple layers. Or you could just wear your Big Red and all your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and you’ll keep nice and toasty.
When we first arrived, the long days were continuing to grow longer. But when the sun dipped below the horizon, even for an hour or two, the temperatures plummeted and everything froze in the darkness. And then something beautiful happened a couple weeks ago. The sun stopped setting.
The next time the sun sets on McMurdo Research Station on Ross Island, Antarctica will be near the end of February, as we all prepare to depart and go our separate ways. We will return to the States, different than when we left. Changed by the icy wind that continues to blow and the sun that never ceases to shine.
When I stepped off the C-17 and touched foot to snow, for a couple seconds, the bright glare of the light off the snow was blinding. On the plane, the light faded and the shadows gave relief to our eyes. After two weeks exploring the beauty that is Christchurch, we left the sights and sounds of the city and entered the unknown (some of us returned to what they have come to call home).
And through the bright white of the snow that surrounded Phoenix Airfield as we descended the steps of the aircraft and began our journey on the ice, our eyes were opened to the beauty that is this frozen landscape.
It’s not a stark white that spreads out as far as the eye can see, but a glimmer of colors that expose themselves in moments and glimpses. It is the blues and the grays of the snow drifts that creep their way across your path. It is the oranges and yellows that explode off the ice as sunlight reflects across its surface, exposing the dark lines of cracks and imperfections that stretch out in silence. It is the browns and dark outlines of volcanic rock that jut out from ground, exploding forth in mounds that tower over this place and contain a beautiful network or trails that lead you to vistas and memorials and hidden sights that you must seek out to find.
It is the vastness of the ice fields as far as the eye can see that draws forth a primal awe and wonder. It is the majesty of the distant mountain ranges that are half hidden in the mist and the clouds of the morning that draw you in to worship. It is the sound of the wind howling past your ears as its icy fingers caress exposed skin that is the song of worship that is this wilderness.
There are times when the blowing clouds of snow set in and the far off horizon vanishes beneath the white expanse of the unknown. When the banks of snow disappear into the distance and the forms that make up the landscape are hidden and lost to sight.
It is then, when the wilderness of this place is upon you, that it reminds you of how small you truly are. And it is then that worship becomes second nature, when your heart dances before creation, and each new sight reminds you of the love of a Lord that is in this place too.
I find myself smiling with joy in my time here, when everywhere I look reminds me of my God. Abba, my Father. I step outside my dorm each morning to see the memorial cross on top of Observation Hill and I am reminded of His sacrifice to be my Savior. I enter into the galley to witness the compassion and the companionship that is shared among friends and this community that is family and I am thankful that my Lord has allowed my path to cross each one here. I walk out onto the ice as I lead groups out to explore the pressure ridges and to witness the power of this place and I am reminded that even here, at the edge of the world, my King still reigns, just like the never ceasing light of the sun.
We often find ourselves surrounded by beauty. Be it here in the land of ice and snow. Or the mountains beneath the skies above. Or beside streams and trails that wind their way through the forests. In villages that emerge from the dust or cities that are filled with the swarm of humanity. If only we stop to notice what surrounds us.
When we stop to take it all in, we witness the glory of our God.