Read here for a brief description of the liturgical season of Epiphany. See the 2016 WALKING EPIPHANY posts here. Also, don't miss the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking questions for your own neighborhood, listed at the end of this post.
Prompt: Local ground
The likeliest path to the ultimate ground leads through my local ground. I mean the land itself, with its creeks and rivers, its weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, and all the plants and animals that share it. I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded in a place.
Scott Russell Sanders
Prompt: Dim light and shadow
How much more mysterious and inviting is the street of an old town with its alternating realms of darkness and light than are the brightly and evenly lit streets of today! The imagination and daydreaming are stimulated by dim light and shadow. In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocused gaze. Homogenous bright light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenisation of space weakens the experience of being, and wipes away the sense of place. The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight. Mist and twilight awaken the imagination by making visual images unclear and ambiguous.
Many people dream of coming to Alaska for a visit, I am blessed to live here. I have lived in Alaska for a total of 15 years. It has been an on again, off again love affair.
When I was 18, I moved from the farmland of Central New York to the frozen land of the Copper River Valley in Alaska to attend Alaska Bible College. God, the mountains, and the Alaskan lifestyle called me to go to Alaska, and so, after high school graduation I embarked on my adventure.
Now 26 years later, I live in Juneau, Alaska located on the Southeast panhandle of Alaska. This land lies within the boundary lines of the Tongass National Forest, hemmed in by the mountains, glacial ice, and the Pacific Ocean known as the Inside Passage. Here in Juneau, we live isolated from the rest of the world; accessible only by air or by sea. Once you arrive in Juneau there is an adequate road system and lots of cars to get you from one place to another quite nicely.
The beauty of Juneau and Southeast Alaska is like none other. It seems that God daily reveals himself to me through the beauty of creation. To see mountains rising out of the sea is just pure beauty and visually inspires me on a daily basis.
However, living in Alaska is no easy walk in the park. Here in Alaska the amount of daylight varies greatly from the short hours of daylight in the winter to the abundance of daylight in the summer; therefore, greatly impacting the ability to navigate the land. It also takes a toll on one’s energy level and mental health.
|Dark and rainy commute to work.|
In the winter, it is so hard to drag yourself out of bed and drive to and from work in the dark. Sometimes it seems as though the only light you see all day comes from man-made lights like traffic lights, car lights, indoor lights, and street lights. The only hours of daylight are during the normal workday and make getting outside for a walk a challenge.
For instance, if you came for a visit in the middle of December, we could only go for a walk during the 10:00am - 2:30pm timeframe if we wanted to avoid being out on the trail when it gets dark. Thanks to modern outdoor equipment it is possible to hike in the dark, but it is still not the optimal hiking experience. One benefit of winter hiking is the bears should be hibernating, and there is little chance of having an unwanted encounter out in the forest.
|Reflections on Auke Bay Harbor. Sun-lined clouds.|
During the height of summer in June, the hours of available daylight hiking abounds and boosts one’s energy level and in turn one’s mood. However, one thing is fairly constant here in Juneau, and that is the dreary sky and the ever present rain. Even in the summer time, the blue sky overhead is not something we see too often nor does it last long when it does occur. In fact, I have practically become a pagan and worship the sun when it comes out.
Southeast Alaska has an abundance of water, the rain falls and forms little streams, creeks, glaciers, rivers, and the ocean. If you came for a visit in the late spring, summer, or early fall we could go fishing and enjoy being on a boat on the ocean where there is an abundance of marine life to enjoy. Natural resources such as fish, berries, deer, bear, birds, and many others abound here.
|Tongass National Forest and Sitka black tail deer|
Living in Juneau is a lot different than living in the Copper River Valley area of Alaska. Up north, in Southcentral Alaska, the land is frozen and the surrounding mountains are taller than they are here in Juneau. It is not uncommon for the winter months up north to have below zero temperatures for weeks on end.
Here in the temperate rain forest of Juneau, we do get snow, but it usually does not last too long before the rain returns. For instance, I took a short jaunt today on January the 18th in the woods leading up to the John Muir cabin. The snow is gone at the beginning of the trail and only a few icy patches remain.
This is one of the many reasons I love living in Juneau. Even in the winter, it can seem like early spring. Thank God for the many colors of green. To me, green represents the color of life and if there is life; there is hope.
This is the land I have come to love. In this place I have learned to thrive. I still miss the farmland of New York State and it will always be my childhood home, but Alaska is my grown-up home, the place where I invest my time and energy.
While the light here is oft times dim and dreary, this land always speaks to me of life. Not the obnoxiously loud, fast-paced kind of life, but of the consistent rhythm of life; the whisper from the giant trees that if I am firmly rooted just as they are and graciously receive what God gives, I will survive and indeed continue to produce fruit even in the less than desirable conditions.
Old and new growth
This sentiment from Jeremiah 17: 7-8 (NLT) encourages me as I walk in the forest, especially where it meets the Mendenhall or Eagle Rivers here in Juneau,
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”
Prompt 2: God's household
Life, breath, food, companionship -- every good thing is a gift from the abundant providence of God. The kingdom of God, this great economy, is embodied in the world when God's people respond to God's provision with gratitude, sharing God's gifts generously with others. The word economy reminds us again that creation is God's household; we are tasked with sustaining it and keeping it in the order God intended. It should be a place where all humans and all creatures are loved and honored and where generosity is commonplace.
C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison Slow Church
In a place that has its fair share of rain and darkness, it is necessary to stay connected to others as we journey through life together. One place I go regularly is to my church, Chapel by the Lake.
At my church, we desire to know God and to make Him known. It is the one place I regularly go to teach, worship, learn, and to connect with others.
Prayer Labyrinth at the Shrine of St. Therese' out the road in Juneau. Whenever I feel lost spiritually or need to feel God's presence I go to the Shrine. It is a wonderful place where God is present.
In Juneau there are several other physical places besides individual churches that have been built and consecrated to God and for Kingdom purposes. Two of these places come to mind as places of hallowed ground.
The first I think of is Echo Ranch Bible Camp. It is a summer camp for school aged children to attend. I worked out at that camp in the summer of 1993 and it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth; one of those spaces that God uses to reveal himself in a mighty way. One does not go out to Echo Ranch seeking God and not find him waiting there ready to speak.
For me, the same is true of the Shrine of St. Therese. This is a unique place that is set up as a quiet retreat, and is complete with a stone chapel and several cottages one can rent for spiritual retreat. There is also a prayer labyrinth that I have walked several times prayerfully considering life and meditating on God’s Word.
One time, two summers ago, I was out standing on the beach when a whale jumped out of the water! I have seen whales before, but to experience such breathtaking beauty and strength so close is something I will never forget.
Finally, when I think of the unity of the God’s household, I think of Love INC of Juneau. Love INC is a national movement to bring together local churches to serve and love people in the community where you live in the name of Jesus Christ. Love INC of Juneau is a partnership of 25 churches within Juneau who strive to transform lives in the name of Christ as we generously share what we have with our neighbors. Sometimes this means praying with people over the phone with neighbors, hearing their needs and doing something about it. Love INC shares food, clothing, baby furniture and care items, personal care items, educational opportunities, etc.
View from the office
Serving as Executive Director of Love INC of Juneau, I am able to see how beautiful it is when different churches and their volunteers come together with the same purpose of serving our neighbors in need. It is hard sometimes to get over ourselves and set our differences aside as Christians, but when we set aside our differences long enough to serve those in need, we restore dignity to each other and those we are caring for. I believe it is in these moments of giving and serving in love that our ultimate purpose is fulfilled and God is glorified.
What about your neighborhood?
- If I walked around the block in your neighborhood, what would I see (hear, smell, etc.)? Put another way: If you were asked to coordinate a walking or biking tour of your neighborhood, what would you include in the tour? Also, how would the season of the year affect your itinerary?
- What does light look like at different times of the day in your neighborhood?
- What are some ways your neighborhood is generous to each other? Put another way, what are some of ways your neighborhood naturally loves and honors others?