Image: Dempster Highway vista
In the late 1950’s, work began on the first overland road in Canada to cross the Arctic circle. The 700km route from Dawson City, YK to Inuvik, NWT was the government’s response to new finds of oil and gas in the Mackenzie River Delta and the Beaufort Sea.
As engineers began to construct the road, they brought with them their experience of road building from the south and quickly discovered that they were in over their heads, literally. As the large earthmovers removed the overlying organic material, in order to prepare the roadbed, they uncovered the permafrost that had lain protected from the heat of the atmosphere for thousands of years. Now exposed, this once solid layer of ice and soil quickly melted into a mossy quagmire which swallowed up anything that was laying upon it or trying to cross it, including the trucks and bulldozers which were trying to build the road.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus uses the analogy of construction to describe the lives of those who rely on God or just rely on themselves. Those who trust in their own way of doing things are not unlike the engineers who tried to build a road on permafrost without the experience they needed to keep from sinking. It does not matter how smart or educated we might be, there are things in life that we cannot do on our own. There are situations that we encounter that we are simply unprepared for. If the builders insisted on continuing in their way of thinking, it is likely that the road would never have been built and everything that they had invested would have been lost. Likewise, those who trust only in their own efforts are likely doomed to failure unless they come to learn from their mistakes.
On the other hand, if we receive the Word of God and apply it in our lives we will be building on a strong foundation. This stable footing was first laid as we received the faith from our parents and grandparents, as we listened to the words of the Elders and those who have had plenty of life experience. All this knowledge provides an opportunity for us to avoid many mistakes and pitfalls that we would make if we were left to our own devices. As we continue to mature, and stay true to our traditions and faith, we continue building on this base. Whenever we try something new, we have the confidence that even if we fail we will not fall far, we only need to brush ourselves off and start again until we have the experience and knowledge to continue moving forward.
The road to the Arctic was eventually completed. It is known as the Dempster Highway and is not just a road to resources but also a beautiful scenic drive for anyone who wants a driving adventure to the north. The highway was able to be finished because the engineers took the time to listen to the local people, who had the experience and knowledge to understand what needed to be done to build a structure on the unforgiving land. As we build our life, we have access to that kind of wisdom. We have the scriptures and the tradition that goes with them, we have the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and we have the gift of the Holy Spirit which was given to us in our baptism. Using these tools will give us every chance for success.