This summer, my family had the enormous privilege of traveling to Iceland for a ten-day vacation. My husband, Mark, likes leading our family to explore less traveled corners of the world, and Iceland has fascinated him for years.
We loved our time there. The Icelanders we met were friendly and helpful, proud to share and show off their country. The landscape is uniquely beautiful. The island nation is marked by enormous glaciers, miles and miles of striking volcanic remains, thunderous waterfalls, rugged coastline, and inviting geothermal pools.
Image courtesy of Michelle Manley
We had many long drives to access various “spots to see,” and with the—true confessions—aid of technology for our kids, the hours in the car had a surprisingly meditative quality to them. The view was continually captivating. Traffic was non-existent. In some spots we could go for miles, seeing only one or two other cars on the road.
One drive in particular impacted me deeply. It’s one I’ve reflected on and recounted to numerous friends.
We were in the fjords of the sparsely populated and more rarely traveled northwest of the country. We were weaving our way up and back along the fjords in a pattern that could easily have grown monotonous. But it was a lovely morning, and I was again largely content to watch the beauty of the water and the land in this very unspoiled part of the world.
And then, right before my eyes, a minke whale jumped in the waters alongside us! It was such a surprise, such a treat, such a majestic and delightful sight! I rallied my family to closely watch the same area. Over the next hour or so, I saw the whale (or one of his buddies) jump three to four more times.
With the time and the reflective space that our car travel created, my musings on these whale sightings in the far corners of Iceland went deep. It was especially moving to me that the whales were jumping despite the unlikely chance that anyone would see them. Having grown up in Southern California in the days of Shamu the whale, whose purpose was to amuse the crowds at Sea World, I was very aware that what I saw that day was not, at least not first and foremost, a show.
I am not much of an animal person. I spend very little time thinking about the lives of animals and what they may or may not know in their animal brains. That day, though, I felt sure that the whale I encountered was playing primarily out of joy—his joy and the joy of the One who made him. I like the picture of God as Creator who creates with purpose but also “just” for the sake of beauty and delight.
Perhaps you’ve heard this famous G. K. Chesterton quote: “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”
We live in a time when so much of life is captured for display. I love the way that Facebook allows me opportunity to see the kids of my non-local friends grow and hit milestones. And I’m aware that a Facebook world pulls me to view all my experiences through the lens of what’s “post-worthy.”
Life’s best gets defined by its value to display. What about experiences—beauty and delight—just for their own sake? What about a practice of savoring beauty and delight, letting it go deep even at the expense of going wide?
Perhaps in learning to savor more, I will find myself more deeply connected to the God who savors things like whales that jump when no one is looking.
Michelle Manley likes the space of quiet reflection, reading, and prayer. She enjoys sitting and talking with others, listening for the creative work of God in daily life. Given that, many are surprised to learn that she's an avid sports spectator and fan. She also tackles bike rides and ski slopes occasionally with her nine- and eleven-year-old sons to keep credibility up with them. She is married to Mark and has worked as a pastor at The River Church Community in the areas of Small Group Community and Adult Spiritual Formation for nearly eighteen years.