A 4-hour drive to Washington, D.C.
An 11-hour flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A 3.5-hour flight to Ushuaia.
A 2.5-day ship expedition across the Drake Passage.
A 7am wake up call came over the intercom system from the hotel manager aboard our ship, “Good morning and welcome to Antarctica!” The ship was finally protected by land and moving slowly. The engine murmured instead of roared. The harsh beating of the waves against the ship was now just a slosh. The rhythmic motion of the cabin bed curtains opening and closing stopped. Personal items were silent in the drawers. Best of all, we crawled out of bed, stood up, and walked around the cabin as we got ready for breakfast. We stood. We walked. It had been two days since we were able to accomplish these tasks without risking injury. After so many long days of travel, we had finally arrived at one of the most remote places in the world. Why hello, Antarctica.
By 10am we had dressed in three layers of clothing, put on our waterproof boots and our self-inflatable life jackets, and stepped onto the ship’s gangway in order to board a zodiac for our first landing on Antarctica.
Antarctica is another planet, except that it’s not. I inhale its air for the first time. It reminds me of fresh, crisp mountain air that I have tasted before, but there is a purity and flavor here that is set apart. A wall of snow hundreds of feet high hides the base of the mountains in front of me. There are no rolling foothills, just peaks that dramatically burst into the sky. Nothing is gradual or subtle here. The peaks of the mountains come in and out of view as the clouds and fog shift. The weather was quite the story-teller throughout the trip, creating complex, unpredictable, mysterious stories with the sun and clouds and rain. Nothing is simple or plain here.
About ten of us load onto a zodiac. Sitting in our inflatable boat, I look up. We are a blip next to the ship. We are a speck of dirt next to Antarctica. This scale, this vastness, this incomprehensible beauty cannot possibly exist on Earth, but it does. I literally feel unworthy in its presence, insignificant and blemished by comparison. Why am I allowed to experience this?
As we head to land, my autonomic nervous system shuts down. Every breath, every swallow, every action that would otherwise occur involuntarily now needs to be cued. No words can pass my lips even if I try. Blood rushes to every capillary, drawn to Antarctica like a magnet. Not one part of my body wants to be internal in this moment. Every cell and every organ put their jobs on hold to help me process this moment, this place. This? This is what it means to be arrested. This is Antarctica.
Of course my organs resumed normal function after this first encounter with the continent, but the awe never waned throughout the trip. I never felt like I could fully absorb the grandeur of the mountains, the snow, the sky, the wildlife, and the ice.
In the past eight or so years, only thirty to forty thousand people from around the world have visited Antarctica each year. That’s about six ten-thousandths of a percent of the world’s population per year. It’s too expensive, too remote, and too harsh to draw more visitors. Our reaction to this was, “What a waste.” What a waste for such an indescribable, arresting creation to be hidden from so many.
Then I remembered the purpose of creation. Ultimately, it was made to bring glory to God. It doesn’t matter if forty million, forty thousand, or four people experience this grandeur. The mountains proclaim, the ice sculptures reveal the glory of God. “Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious” (Psalm 66: 1-2).
I am his creation, too. I was made to bring him glory. It doesn’t matter if my sphere of influence includes millions, thousands, or no one, my purpose is to be sold out for him. To love him and to praise him when everyone is watching and when no one is watching. “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31). When people live for God with reckless abandon, it is the most beautiful, the most mysterious, the most arresting of all creation.