In August of this year, my wife and I made our way to Trepassey. We checked in to the local hotel and settled in for a couple of “together days” of beach-combing, local sights, and quiet meals together. One of the “must do” items on our list was a visit to Mistaken Point.
This marvellous place is located at the south-eastern tip of our Newfoundland island home. There is a narrow 17 km-long strip of rugged coastal cliffs that were, at one time, at the bottom of an ancient ocean. How long ago? Try to think of the Ediacaran period, which was 580 to 560 million years ago. At some point, volcanic action caused both the death and preservation of the life that dwelt there. The fossils of Mistaken Point are amazingly well preserved, and they are plentiful. It is a unique place. We are told that they represent the earliest of multi-celled organisms in the narrative of life on our planet.
Every culture, tradition, spirituality, and religion has pondered in some way, and struggled with, a goal of getting somewhat close to answers about origin, destiny, identity, and meaning. I found that the 3-km hike to the site connected me to some of that. A trek of curiosity surprisingly turned into a deeper pilgrimage than I had anticipated.
Here are a few images for you that emerged during, after, and even now as I write this for you.
First of all, it was a warm, rainy day. Warm rain always reminds me of my childhood—of playing in puddles, drawing hopscotch games, and all of the beginnings of different stages of my life. But that’s me. Warm rain always helps me remember what was good, and not traumatic, in my younger days.
A small group had gathered at the Interpretation Center. There are only twelve people taken for one tour at a time. This is to allow the guides to ensure the safety of the visitors, and to protect the fossils at the site. At first, we didn’t know each other. All of us met at the interpretation centre, with masks on, and waiting for our leader to lead and teach us. We became pilgrims on a path.
As we walked along the 3-km trail, the tour interpreter and I found time to chat. She mentioned that she had just come from church. You know where that led!
As you walk along you will notice that the only substantial marker is the trail itself. It is comprised of two parallel tracks. I asked her if this was an old logging or ocean access road. She replied, “No; these tracks are from those who have been walking in and out of here for years to see the fossils on the point.”
I shared how psalm 23 speaks of being “guided along right paths”, and without being too detailed or boring, explained that the Hebrew word describing these paths is as “well-worn paths;” they are those that have been used by many pilgrims along the way, for many years—paths that can be trusted.
You pass through a landscape of berries, foxes, petrels, and running water, and finally arrive at “The Point.”
Before going on the assemblage, you are told to remove your shoes. You cannot stand on the ground with shoes on because the fossils need to be protected from the sand, gravel, and other bits of abrasive or corrosive material that have been carried there. For me at least, the biblical image of being in a Holy Place immediately filled my heart. “Take off your shoes, for the ground upon which you stand is Holy.”
So as a group, we removed our shoes and stood upon what was an ocean floor over 600 million years ago. What you see is absolutely amazing.
I thought of these as living ancestors of ours: those ones formed by the Spirit of God, as Genesis 1:1 teaches:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be ….”
Remember, 600 million years ago, our world was very different indeed. There were no plants or animals on the surface; it was far too hostile. But the ocean, God’s primordial sea, was teeming with life.
While we were assembled on Mistaken Point, we soon found ourselves sharing observations and thoughts with one another. It became wonderfully personal. We discovered that among us were farmers, geologists, anthropologists, and theologians. We also discovered that despite our varied perspectives, we shared in the awe and wonder of the place. We were connected, each one a pilgrim in their own way.
As I walked back to our vehicle, I offered some very diverse prayers of reflective thanksgiving, and continue to do so every day.
As we travel through our lives, may God bless the path of our personal and community experience. Together, through age and illness, changes in wealth and opportunity, and new discoveries, we move forward.
May each day become a pilgrimage of growth, wonder, arrival and departure, led by the spirit of Jesus.