Commemoration of Edmund James Peck
The portion of Psalm 107 appointed for today – about “going down to the sea in ships… plying trade in deep water… the stormy winds… and then beholding the works of the Lord” – this psalm reads like a biography of Edmund James Peck, whom we commemorate today. Born in the tenements of Manchester, England, in 1850, he entered the Royal Navy while he was still a child, intending to make the Navy his life career. But then a series of near-fatal illnesses and shipboard accidents amazingly led him to experience what he called “the movements of grace,” an experience of Christ “saving him,” quite literally. He became convinced he was to volunteer as a missionary to the Canadian Arctic. And he set off. He would spend most of the next 40 years among the Inuit and Cree people on an immense island in the Arctic – Baffin Island – an area of almost 200,000 square miles. There are two seasons on the Baffin Island: winter and August, when the summertime temperatures sometimes even reach 40 degrees.
As a priest among the Innuit and Cree people, he built up the Anglican Church not only spiritually by his teaching and preaching, pastoral care, and superb linguistic and translation work, but also by the hard work of his hands. He was a builder in every sense of the word, and he was loved. He died on this date in 1924, age 74.
In the Brothers’ Rule of Life we use the word “mystery” more than 25 times. A mystery is “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” We speak of God as mystery, an intimate mystery to us. We speak of the mystery of our own selves. And speak of “the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies.” We say, “Only God knows them as they truly are…” How and why Edmund James Peck spent his life in the Arctic is impossible to fully understand, especially given from where he had come. How can this be? There is a version of that mystery true for all of us. There is more than meets the eye in everyone. And so our posture in life toward others should surely include the humility that we do not know them as God knows them, that God is at work in them as much as God is at work in us, please, that God is not in a rush, and that none of us is a mystery to God, who so loves the world.
Blessed Edmund James Peck, whom we remember today.
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