Stan Giles, my chaplain who is in Antarctica right now, sent one last missive from McMurdo Station. It's no surprise that in this incredible place, Chaplain Giles is waxing poetic about creation:
"While this continent is one vast white wilderness (1.5 times the size of the 48 states), punctuated only by a scenic range of mountains separating West from East Antarctica, along the coast, where I’m at, there is some variety including the ocean which supports a few species of seabirds and penguins, a seal population (but no polar bears) and, now that the ice has opened up somewhat, some whales. Orca whales (the kind at SeaWorld) do range here, but the most common are minke whales – a smaller, thinner breed that seems to lope along the ice edge like a foraging land animal in absolutely no hurry.
A few days ago I traveled a short distance to a nearby research station operated by New Zealand. In that location the ice had opened up closer to shore and about a hundred yards out there was a hole about the size of a SeaWorld tank. In that natural enclosure were two whales, swimming around, enjoying the bright summer sun and the warm temperatures (it was about 25 F).
I took a few pictures but not wanting to spend that moment staring through a viewfinder, I slipped my camera in my pocket and just watched for the better part of ten minutes. Had I the eyes of Superman there likely would have been hundreds more, but these two were in my view, oblivious that I was staring at them as they glided along diving for a minute or so before returning to the surface, expelling a cold mist through their blowhole. It was like being at SeaWorld – only colder!
Then I had one of those rare, National Geographic moments as one of the whales stood up, so to speak, on a fin and looked over the ice for what seemed like a long time, but was certainly only second or so. I’m told they occasionally do that looking for a sleeping seal or a misguided penguin that they might snatch for a snack.
And in that moment I came face to face with what has to be one of the most gorgeous of God’s creatures. I was reminded of a song by Matt Redman, taken from Psalm 150, that has the refrain 'let everything that has breath praise the Lord' and I have that moment frozen in my brain.
That moment with those two whales is a gift that I’ll always be able to pull out of my experience bag and mentally replay and treasure.
It’s not rare to find some people who mock those committed to preserving the environment, including those who would 'save the whales,' relegating them to the extremist range. No doubt there are some like that, but my belief has always been that we are stewards of God’s creation as it speaks and even shouts of His glory. I call it the theology of ecology. Plus, does anyone really want to live in a dirty world?
Antarctica is unique because this is one part of the creation that cannot sustain life and therefore has remained quite literally pure. There is no other place where the entire ecosystem - air, water and land - has been almost entirely untouched by human hands.
As a result, here you are breathing the purest air on earth, with no pollution and no humidity – part of why the mountain range in front of me stands out with such clarity. While 43 miles in the distant, it seems so close. Divers tell me that the ocean here is the cleanest in the world with 400–500 feet of visibility.
Thus it is a wonderful laboratory for research. The Antarctica Treaty calls for the removal of all human debris and so quite literally all human trash and waste (and I mean all!) is packaged up and shipped back for disposal in the U.S. They are serious they are about preserving the environment.
While here I was able to attend some science lectures and engage with a number of scientists whose research brings them here. My background in such is minimal and so I could only understand them around the edges, but I am more and more convinced of a Creator God whose handiwork is intricately woven together on both a large and a small scale. Those two whales that I watched, in some way, speak of the Creator God – of which mankind stands as the pinnacle of His creation."
You can certainly see why Chaplain Giles had a story to share for Miracles and Moments of Grace
. His story, A Single Death, is a moving tribute to his wife's brother, a Marine who died in Vietnam.