Tuesday Travels — WOW !!! (Yukon Territory)

I was introduced to author Anne Lamott when I went to grad school at Loyola University Maryland. It was in my Theological Anthropology class – my very first class offered that very first night of the semester in January, 2001, in Loyola’s graduate program – when I knew that my decision to change careers and go back to school was the right decision. No one else thought so, but I felt it that first night.

I was home. I belonged.

Anne Lamott’s thoughts on faith and her own spiritual journey are wonderful – funny, perceptive, profound. In her latest work, “Help, Thanks, Wow – The Three Essential Prayers,” Lamott says that keeping prayer simple – by asking for assistance, offering appreciation and feeling awe at the world – is enough, a way of “reaching out to be heard and hoping to be found.”

This is how Lamott describes the third great prayer of “Wow!” :

“Wow is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace. Wow means we are not dulled to wonder… Wow is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous…” (p. 71)

What an appropriate way to describe a recent “Wow!” moment when I was fortunate enough to cross off yet another item on my bucket list – seeing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Since I was a little girl, my mother and I loved weather events, and spoke often and longingly about someday seeing the Northern Lights (actually, we spoke the same way about seeing Elvis Presley in concert, but that never came to fruition…).

So with the aurora forecast looking good for 2013, I set about researching a good place to “hunt the lights,” and since we (my husband, sister & brother-in-law) didn’t want to fly to Norway, we settled on Whitehorse, Canada in the Yukon Territory. We flew to Vancouver, changed planes and flew 2 more hours North to Whitehorse, then drove about a half hour more to the Takhini River Lodge. We had decided on staying 6 nights to optimize our chances of seeing the lights. We were lucky – we saw them 4 out of the 6 nights, the last 2 of those nights brighter than the first 2 nights.

Something I hadn’t realized – our eyes do not see the lights in the same colors as the camera does; in fact, when you see the changes in the sky – a slight lightening at first – the only way to confirm that you are looking at the lights is to take a picture, which shows the colors you see in images reproduced in books.

WOW !!! When I first realized what I was looking at, there was nothing else that came to mind, that I could say – WOW !!! The northern horizon slowly changed in its brightness, getting lighter, a shimmering curtain that swirled forward in folds at the same time it sent rays shooting up vertically like fingers into the black night. I couldn’t look away – I had goosebumps, my mouth was open, my eyes scanning the heavens – my dream had been realized, and I could not believe my luck, my blessings, my grace. And the stars, sparkling white against the dark carpet of sky…

At once, I was nothing more than a speck on one of countless planets in the universe, witness to something of such beauty that made me feel both insignificant, yet interconnected…both powerless, yet emboldened with the privilege of the experience…humbled by the grace of our existence.

The lights danced…and so did my my soul…

WOW !!!