Death and Life in Iceland

The sea and the land have teeth.

p1310144The Ölfusá Meets the Atlantic at Óseyartangi

For human beasts, life and death are a series of crossings. For earth, water and wind, three  living forces humans wade through, it is a great mixing together.

p1310194The Ölfusá Meets Tides and Waves in the Wind

In a country in which the social lives of humans, and all they have built together, appear less substantial than the forces they live among …

p1310065… they stand nonetheless.

p1310064Church in Laugarbakka

Barely. With a lot of improvisation.

p1310225þorlákshöfn

It is enough. In this land, lighthouses are not just about visible light.

strandStrandkirkja

In a country in which a beach is the sound of the keel of a ship being hauled by men on pebbles up out of the surf (strand) or of men walking through the dunes (sand), houses and lights are all shores.

p1310284What you wash up as is not always your choice. Every landing is also a strand-ing. You might live or you might die. For centuries, Icelandic men went to sea in wooden boats, and came in through the surf to land, not always well.

strand2Your fate is not whether you make it alive or dead, but how you face it. That’s grim, but then some things are. Gunnar Gunnarsson wrote about this fateful beach surrounding Iceland during the devastation of World War I. The book was Livets Strand. In German, it was translated as Strand des Lebens.

15580902594In English, the title would be The Shore of Life, but it has never been translated into English. It is an allegory of that war, set in a remote Icelandic fjord. It is the unique, life-affirming, and devastating story of a pastor wrestling with his faith in terrible circumstances, tried by the beauty and horror of life and the often-times inability to distinguish it from death. It is a writer wrestling with how to tell the difference. In an Icelandic context, it is a shore. In this time in which we need it, in many languages. We are at sea.

p1310163We need help help both going out and coming back.

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