I had the opportunity, along with fifteen other members of our short-term mission team, to welcome the new year while guests in Chile. I doubt that any one of us will soon forget this most unusual celebration of New Year’s, both because of our location and the vistas it provided. Nestled in the foot hills of the Andes, as guests of the Mapuche people (the indigenous tribal people of Chile) we were rich in both hospitality and scenery for the holiday.
The particular vista my host home offered was that of a pasture overlooking an alpine lake, with an active volcano jutting forth in the distance. (See picture above) As someone who has always been captivated by the majesty of mountain scenes I could not have scripted or drawn a more pleasing vista. The snowcapped peak of Villarrica stood regal and tall no matter the vantage point. It was as if the mountain was determined to show off on these particularly clear days of early January (summer in Chile).
As good and grand as the daylight views were, nothing compared to the nighttime vista of Villarrica. Did I mention this was an active volcano? It last erupted in March of 2015 when it sent a plume of ash into the sky. Our clue as to its activity came at night when we witnessed the orange glow of the volcano’s crater reflecting off the snowcap framed in the contrasting darkness of the night sky. That glow seemed to ebb and wane as the molten lava below churned within the mountain – incredible! Perhaps more incredible was how our hosts seemed to take this phenomena for granted – just a normal part of their daily scenery.
Having been tipped off to ask for this vista our first night by the missionary friend who served as our transportation; we requested a return trip to the pasture a couple of nights later. This request was met with indifference from our hosts, though as we pressed the matter they suggested by now we knew the way and had their permission to go it alone. So we did. Four Midwesterners accustom to the flatlands of Indiana, some 5,000+ miles from home, transported from winter to summer in our trip across the equator, and just days into a new year. We picked our way along the sheep path through the gate and into the open pasture where a Chilean night sky awaited.
The handiwork of our Creator did not disappoint. The heavens were alive with light as the Milky Way galaxy spread forth before us. A meteoric display set forth as not one or three, but four shooting stars traveled across the canvass of God’s artistry. As eyes adjusted to the darkness, details of constellations and potential planetary illumination were discussed amidst the various one-syllable utterances: “Wow!” “Woe.” “Cool!” And in the background, just below the horizon, its peak touching that same night sky, stood the guardian mountain with ever the faintest glow belying the power that churned within.
That’s how 2016 began for me and three of my companions. It was an experience in perspective, a resetting of my sense of being and my capacity to worship. These words of Psalm 8 come to mind as I think back to our vista:
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. . . . When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:1,3 NRSV)
Happy New Year – a few days late!