I went through the archive of what I have written for these devotions since they began so many months ago. I looked back because I wondered how many times have I written about my time as an interim pastor in Shishmaref Alaska? I found out it was more than once, which isn’t surprising given the transformative nature of that place, 22 miles south of the Arctic Circle. An environment unlike any other, today as I contemplated what I was going to write I checked the weather, it’s -15 this morning March 10.
So now I return to that place and the people who live there and sometimes fill my thoughts with wonder at how they have adapted and become one with the place and all God’s creatures that live there. There is a creativity about living on the margins, something Jesus knew all about for as he reveals in the Gospels there were times when he had no to place to call home. And it’s safe to say he was creative in ways unseen before or since.
Above you see a picture of a piece two polar bear Cubs mock fighting. It was a gift from Edwin Weyiouanna. Edwin is a local artist. Look him up on Google and you’ll see beautiful pieces that he has made out of the objects that can be found there, antlers from moose and caribou, rib bones or vertebrae from a whale and of course, ivory from the tusks of the walrus. Edwin would be one of many who engage in a kind of creativity I can only imagine. I can write at times with intense creativity, but to carve an object or to draw on canvas is something that I have never felt able or gifted to do. Aside from that to give me a knife is a dangerous thing, not to anyone else, but dangerous to me, yes I’m a klutz and would probably cut an artery.
Back to Edwin though and how he touched me. Almost always he showed up first for worship. Wanting to talk with me, wanting to find his place and prepare for worship. He has had a hard life, as all have in Shishmaref. He was fighting cancer while I was there. He may have been the first person to knock on the door of the parsonage.
The day I remember most involves the two bear Cubs shown above. Edwin stopped by to make a phone call on the land line that the parsonage still has. His cell phone had gone kaput and he needed to reach out to someone in the lower 48. He made his call and left a message. While awaiting the return call he saw a magazine with a picture of the two polar bear cubs. He asked for pencil and paper and began to draw. He almost instantly had drawn a great representation of the cubs. After a time he excused himself and headed for his home.
Three hours later he was again knocking at my door. Only this time he held in his small hands the carving you see. It was a gift to me. In a matter of that time Edwin was able to visualize what he wanted and take it from paper to caribou antler, infusing that dead object with life.
I purchased many pieces from many an artist up there, but this piece has touched me, for Edwin’s spirit resides in it. He gave it life and now as this and all the other pieces I have are placed in a special spot in my apartment I remember the God-given spirit of the place and a people who live in harmony with God’s good creation. Bears are mentioned 7 times in the Old Testament, but the writers would have never known of polar bears. They are the apex predator there, but they like Edwin and me are part of God’s diverse world. We don’t live very close to the natural world, but to encounter it, to walk her paths in the mountains and hills in Idaho can bring us close to the beauty of the earth and to experience the holiness of God in the creation. I was so blessed to travel to a new place and see for myself the wondrous creativity of a people often forgotten by us, but never by God.
Let us pray...
Holy One, creator of bone and sinew and antler and so much more. We give you thanks for given each the gift of creativity, where we become co-creators of this world as Edwin does each day he carves piece after piece. Most of don’t have that gift but help us to find the gifts we do have to make this creation more fully what you would have it be. Amen.