She said she had driven all the way from Seattle. But it would be another four hour drive from where we were staying to the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. And she wondered whether it was worth it.
Her husband had planted the seed of doubt when she talked to him on the phone earlier that day. “All that way to stand on a mound of dirt, shiver in the brisk air, and look out onto a freezing patch of ice bobbing in the cold water?”
We were told that the last time Newfoundland had seen so many icebergs float into its myriad of bays and inlets was in 1912 — the year the Titanic sank after hitting one of these mammoth patches of ice.
Our itinerary on the Rock didn’t include a visit to Twillingsgate where over fifty icebergs, other tourists told us, crowded the bay there in early summer this year. But we were fairly positive, given the ideal conditions, that we might see some icebergs in the north near St Anthony and L’Anse aux Meadows, where we were headed anyway.
So despite the lack of enthusiasm from our travelling friend from Seattle, we set off up the highway. Four hours later we were rewarded with some incredible views of one of natures most extraordinary displays of beauty, power, size and transformation.
I suppose we could have chosen not to go — like the tourist from Seattle. Some folks, it seems, will not even want to consider the possibility of being transformed. But had we believed her justification for not going, we would have missed this golden opportunity for being enriched, yes, changed by seeing something new, something beautiful, in God’s creation.
Saint Paul uses this term only a couple of times in his letters to the early church. “Be transformed”, he urges the church (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2). How are we transformed in Christ Jesus?
Seeing the icebergs taught me some Godly lessons about the journey of our lives, the journey of our transformation. So, what is the transformation that an iceberg undergoes?
First, it’s important to understand how the iceberg gets from point A to point B. The icebergs make their long journey following the North Atlantic Drift circulating the Baffin Basin from Greenland across to Baffin Island, down along the coast of Labrador and finally to Newfoundland. The icebergs we saw this summer were over a year in coming.
So, the first lesson of the iceberg is that whatever the transformation is, the change takes place over a long time. Enduring change in Christ is usually not sudden or immediate. The change addresses the deepest parts of our lives, even those parts wracked by sin — where our anger, our fear, our anxiety reside.
But because of its long-term nature, it’s easy to drop off and abandon the journey. We may feel it’s too hard and pointless a commitment since we see so little change in the short term. We can be discouraged, distracted, dismayed. We may choose, based on what we see in others around us, not to even bother. A.k.a. Seattle tourist.
But while inevitable that the ice will melt eventually and ‘die’ in whatever bay or cove it grounds upon, its purpose will be fulfilled in a unique way. The transformation is part of the bigger plan. In the end, it’s not about our choices; it’s not about us; as individuals we are not at the centre of our lives. It’s about God’s purpose, fulfilled in a unique and beautiful way through our individual selves. Each iceberg completes the journey in a way like no other, presenting unique shapes and sizes, landing on unique shorelines or melting out in the warmer currents of the open water.
The point is, however we change, we are still ourselves. In the transformation we undergo we don’t lose the best parts of ourselves. An iceberg still contains it’s basic elements of H2O. Just because the iceberg eventually dissolves it doesn’t lose the essence of its being. The iceberg’s transformation continues to incorporate its basic composition right to the end.
But — and here’s the rub — the change towards the good doesn’t occur without significant disruption.
One morning we walked down to the local coffee shop right on the rocky shoreline of Hay Cove, near L’Anse Aux Meadows, when we heard a booming ‘crack!’ Our heads turned immediately to the source of the thunderous clap: The iceberg nearest the shore had cracked in half. It had calved — shed part of its bulk and then slowly rolled over. We saw exposed to the air an icy wall that hadn’t likely seen the light of day for thousands if not millions of years. Remember over 80% of an iceberg lies underneath the surface of the water.
The resurrection happens only because of the cross. There is no easy, short cut on the journey to being transformed in Christ, who modelled for us the pattern — the way — of dying and rising to new life. But this often difficult disruption seeks only to maintain balance and equilibrium; it is a redeemed disruption, so to speak. The iceberg in the water needed to shed part of its bulk so it could find a floating balance once again.
In the Gospel text for today (Matthew 16:13-20), Peter is redeemed. Jesus gives Peter the power and the grace to lead and be the ‘Rock’ upon which the church will be built. What an affirmation of Peter!
And yet, let us not forget the way Jesus had been with Peter over the years. This is the Peter who will deny knowing The Lord during his hour of greatest need (Matthew 26). This is the Peter who pretends to know all the answers when most often he gets it so wrong (Matthew 16).
Not only does Jesus show enduring faith in him, he lets Peter be Peter. Yes, at one point, Jesus even rebukes Peter (Matthew 16:23). But Jesus nevertheless lets him make his mistakes and do what he feels he needs to do, even though Jesus knows that Peter’s compulsion will more often than not get him into trouble.
Remember, it was Peter’s idea to come out of the boat and walk on the stormy water to Jesus (Matthew 14:28). He wanted to do it; this getting out of the boat and walking on the water was not Jesus’ idea. But Jesus let him do it anyway, even though it would get Peter into trouble. In other words, Jesus shows his love to Peter by accepting all of him — including his faults. This is the nature of God’s love — to love us ‘while we are yet sinners’ (Romans 5:8).
There is nothing symmetrically perfect with icebergs, as much as there is nothing morally perfect with anyone of us — despite the fact that we call ourselves Christians and say we follow Christ in the world today. We will, with time, break and crack. Bishop Michael Pryse attended the Canadian Lutheran-Anglican Youth Gathering in British Columbia last weekend, and he quoted the main speaker who said, “The church is like a glow-stick; it can’t shine until you break it!”
There is something true about this: That we can only fulfill our destiny — like icebergs do — when we accept the fact that we are broken, and will break, along the journey of life. When we come to terms with our brokenness, when we bear our suffering as our own, then the beauty of our lives can shine forth.
Denying our faults, pretending they are not there, or hiding them only leads to expecting those around us not to make any mistakes either. Well, that only leads to even more deception and lies. “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought,” Paul reminds us (Romans 12:3), appealing to a sense accepting and understanding our limitations.
Jesus saw the truth about Peter; that despite his brokenness, his pride and compulsion, the church needed someone like him. Jesus sees the truth about us, and values us, despite our faults.
We have to take the good with the bad, in ourselves and in each other. Then, in the honesty of the relationships in this place, the transformation of which Paul speaks takes place. In the sometimes cold and stormy waters of the baptism in which we began our journey, we continue in faith on the currents of God’s love. We can fulfill our mission only because of the faith God has in us.