If you haven’t read the two previous posts on “North to Alaska,” I recommend that you do so before reading this. Thanks.
They say that good news – like bad news – comes in threes. It reportedly is folk wisdom, but I surmise Trinitarian underpinnings. Could it be that the Holy One is like a stool needing three legs to provide support, and that the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are merely differing varieties of the same life-giving substance much like ice, water, and steam…?
… Or perhaps the magic-three rule exists for no other reason than to keep us hopeful of more blessings or to find comfort in the assurance that misfortune is finite? Who knows?
What I do know is that I was the happy recipient of three distinct blessings during Thanksgiving week.
It all began in mid-October, when I received an email from Lisa Young, who had heard from Amy Greene that I was looking for freelance work while going through the tedious process of finding another pastorate. Amy is a dear friend and former colleague from RWD Technologies, where I worked before ordained ministry. Lisa also worked at RWD but in a different department; she left to become a Vice-President with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) and eventually enjoined Amy to join her team. The email was brief: “Amy told me you were available for freelancing; call me if you are willing to work with the native population in northern Alaska.”
My heart raced as I called her back, ecstatic with memories of Mt. Edgecumbe. The ASRC project was still in its planning stages, Lisa said, but she was happy to hear of my availability and enthusiasm. Over the next few weeks, the three of us brainstormed possibilities, and Lisa discussed options with her supervisors. She then asked her associate Sheila Boyd to design a contract for me to spend six months helping to develop a cultural awareness program. The contract was finalized the day before Thanksgiving.
But this wasn’t just any ol’ job – this was going back to the place and people that had formed me. I would be doing ministry (albeit not parish ministry) in ways and for people that I treasured. So many times since April 1966 had I dreamed of returning to the 49th state, but kept putting it off because the costs were outside my budget and a routine tourist trip would not reconnect me with the places and people of Alaska that I had come to love. But now here it was – dropped like manna from heaven! Considering the state of my and the country’s economy, it appeared that the Holy Spirit had been working overtime on my behalf. Thanksgiving was personal and intense
But that was just the first part. It happens that Debbie Brown, one of the other three Bennington College interns, had recently moved from the East Coast to the East Bay. Even more to the point, she had returned to Alaska in 1967 and 1968 to work in a native high school just outside of Nome. Best of all, she would loan her senior thesis on teaching Alaskan natives as well as source materials for her research. We spent the Tuesday after Thanksgiving poring over the Mt. Edgecumbe High School yearbook, Volcanic Vibrations (a literary journal we helped with) and Tundra Times, the irregular newspaper for Alaskan Natives. Contract + reconnecting with a dear friend = Spirit strikes twice.
The final blessing of the week came in the mail when I returned home, specifically the winter sale catalog from REI. Knowing that I would be going to Barrow, Alaska (the northernmost point of the United States) in a few weeks, I spent Wednesday scarping up huge discounts on boots, parkas, long underwear, balaclavas and other requisites for surviving temperatures of minus 40. I gleefully produced a 20% off coupon while purchasing $189 mittens designed to prevent frostbite in the Himalayas, Antarctica, and Alaska, and gave three-fold thanks for toasty fingers and a Trinity of blessings.
Next time – more on ASRC, the Inupiat (Eskimo) people, and Barrow, Alaska. In the meanwhile, you might want to check out a recent television show on life in Barrow. (Note that this was filmed several months ago, while there was still light. When I head there next week, it will be pitch black. The sun won’t rise again until mid-February.)