God is my solid rock, my refuge, my protector, the rock where I am safe, my shield, my rescuer, and my place of shelter. (Psalm 18:2)

Newfoundland lives up to its nickname: “the rock.” From the heights of Grose Morne (big rock) in the west to the rocky points of Cape Spear and Signal Hill on the east coast, the island is one big old rock. Without getting into the entire geological history, the exposure of old layers of the earth’s crust worn down over years of wind, waves, and weather have given Newfoundland its unique landscape. The interior is mostly bog with smaller trees (especially compared to the rainforest giants on west coast) but the harshness and barrenness of the coastline holds some appeal for me.  It’s a similar appeal as the rolling grasslands of southwestern Saskatchewan or the desolate crags of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. They all have been buffeted by high winds, extreme weather, and brushed clean of all but the hardiest vegetation.

What is it about these desolate places that give them their spiritual appeal? They can be described as “thin places” where the mythical distance between heaven and earth might be just a little bit less than other places. When most people think of the most beautiful places on earth they often think of the tropics with abundant vegetation, exotic animals and fruits, warm temperatures, and vast sandy beaches. Newfoundland does not have much of any of the above. The trees are scrubby, (Although moose overrun the island, they were imported!), I observed virtually no agriculture, the winters are harsh and extreme (apparently a normal 12 feet of snow in Bishop’s Falls), storms abound, and the temperature while we were there in July topped out at 22 degrees. And the locals said that we were lucky to have such nice weather!

Perhaps because of the above, Newfoundland has the lowest population density of any province in Canada! Yet the appeal for me remains. I felt humbled and cleansed (and clung to the railing!) by the powerful wind as we traveled by ferry. The rock formations in Grose Morne National Park spoke to me of divine groundedness, reliability, and ancient creativity. All the many coves with tiny fishing villages clinging to the rocks and sheltered from ocean gales were a powerful metaphor for divine rest from the storms of life. The fragile dependency on the produce of the sea reminded me of the prairie farmer’s dependency on weather and soil. From the eastern points the sea stretches on endlessly into the horizon where eventually they are indistinguishable. In many ways I encountered God on the rock.

 

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