I miss the snow.
Not a lot, and I understand how that might confuse many of you, having selected this place to live in some measure because of its lack of snow it might seem odd that I could miss it but I do.
And no, I cannot simply drive up to Tahoe or Truckee and get a “fix” of the snow. That is not living with snow, dwelling with snow; encompassing snow and having snow encompass you. Snow is not a thing, it is a companion, a friend or an enemy, something that, if you are only dabbling in it, you will never understand what to means to those of us who miss it, who wish we got some from time to time, who still pine a little bit for days when it does nothing but fall, all day long, erasing the details of the rest of the world, leaving not so much footprints or markers upon the landscape, but the lack of markers, the lack of footprints, the lack of details, the erasure of everything less important, less encompassing, less persistent than itself.
I even miss shoveling it, though the twinge in my lower back I got yesterday moving boxes in the basement did give me pause.
But even shoveling it means having it around, having an interruption to the schedule you had for the day, having a distraction from the abstractions and the meanings behind things. There is only the snow when it comes time to shovel, nothing but the snow, it erases all the rest.
One of my favorite things back in Anchorage was to sit in my living room, a fire going in the fireplace because Alaska is big and the population is small and forest fires are not readily noticed, sometimes for weeks so your fireplace doesn’t mark up the air too badly, but the fire next to me and the large picture window out the front of the house in front of me and I would watch the snow fall.
It fell onto the bushes outside the window, skeletal and stark in the leafless winter cold. Snow would cling to the branches, building up impossible little mounds, wider at the top than at the bottom, little inverted triangles until the tops would touch each other and this spindly little collection of sticks, sad reminders of the bright and bold colors of spring would somehow, almost mockingly wear a shroud of white snow, so delicately balanced that a cough from across the street could shake it and cause the whole thing to collapse, the thin branches again naked, awaiting the next flake.
It was an amazing thing, to watch something so unlikely come to pass, six, sometimes eight inches of snow precariously balanced, holding together by holding together in top of the insubstantial structure of dormant twigs as the snow continued to fall.
A good book, a cup of coffee and a comfy chair on one side of the glass window, a miracle on the other.
You can lay down in the snow and it will cover you. I know it sounds scary to Californian ears but if it is snowing it is probably not that cold and if you are well enough insulated the snow can build up on your coat and your snow pants, on your boots and on your mittens, on your scarf and on the parts of your face that are exposed, it won’t get too cold, trust me.
In heavy snow it might take as little as fifteen minutes, fifteen minutes of increasingly complete silence, increasingly less distraction, just the snow as all trace of you disappears and you may as well be a fallen limb or a mound of leaves beneath the white blanket you wear so complete is the snow’s ability to erase and to obscure you and all that you know.
I like the snow as a metaphor for the grace of God.
It falls on the righteous and the craven alike, it does not discriminate between those who are receptive to its embrace and those who reject its enveloping love and those who are barely aware at all that it is there, like Floridians or Arizonans barely think of snow at all.
But mostly I think of the parallels between the grace of God and the snow of God, yes, God gave us the snow, not the devil, because of the ways in which we react, the ways in which they change us.
Sure, there is the temptation to sit by and watch, to sit back and simply let it fall upon you, covering you, creating impossibly beautiful structures, impossibly intricate changes in your life. Like the crown of snow that the branches outside of my front window used to wear, it is tempting to wear the grace of God like a mantle, a badge of office, something too beautiful for words but more delicate than we care to admit.
If we were passive enough with grace to simply sit back and let it build beautiful structures, lovely changes in our lives God could most certainly achieve those ends, monks and hermits have, over the centuries, retreated from the world and concentrated with great vigor on simply allowing grace to be theirs and to see what changes it affected.
It could easily cover us as we waited. It sounds a lot like the Psalm for this morning, “for God alone my soul waits in silence,” drifting off to sleep as the snow slowly covers us, as the grace builds up.
But the snow doesn’t just beckon to us to sit back and admire it, to let it build even the most lovely structures in our lives.
It also beckons to us, “come and play.” Come sledding, skiing, build a snowman, build an igloo, have a snowball fight, build a snow sculpture, take a child out and make a snow angel with them.
That’s the reason you go to Tahoe, the reason you go to Squaw Valley. You hear the beckoning cry of the snow to come and to play. If only for a short time, if only for a moment, come and play and remember what it was to be a child.
The call of grace is no less playful. It is what makes friends out of strangers, makes lovers out of friends, gets the party started and makes marriages last when others do not. Grace is the power of forgiveness, the hope for a better tomorrow, the faith that gives the courage to take the risk, to drop to one knee, to offer the ring along with your whole life. It makes the fourth grade playmate on the playground the friend in high school, the college buddy, the best man, the lifelong friend, the confidant, the confessor, the brother.
Grace calls us outside too, maybe not outside our house but outside ourselves, “come and play in the garden of the lord,” it beckons, “come and see what life is meant to be like, in the company of God’s creation, in the company of God’s people.”
It is only in relationship with others that we have hope of fulfilling one of the first priorities of God, that it is not good for us to be alone, that we were built for community; that we were built to be in and amongst each other. It’s scary, I know; there is risk, I know; but the fulfillment of the word of God is never, ever a bad thing and so grace beckons, the way a perfectly smooth hillside of snow beckons the sledding child, “come out,” it says, “come and see what happens.”
I know I am painting this picture with entirely too rosy a palette. I know that the snow does not simply beckon us to come out and play, to come out and enjoy. It also demands that we come out and work. Debbie and I were the sextons at a church in Minneapoolis while I was in my first two years in seminary and a part of the duties that went with that job was clearing the sidewalks of ice and snow, clearing the staircases, clearing the property of anything that might be dangerous, that might cause someone to slip and fall, that impeded anyone on their journey.
This church sat on one half on one city block and about a fifth of the neighboring city block and while they had a snow-blower, it still took about ninety minutes every morning in snow season to clear the block, to clear the steps, to get the property ready so I understand that it is not all beer and skittles having snow in your life, that there are demands as well.
It should also be noted that I grew up in Alaska, so shoveling snow is not an activity with which I am unfamiliar.
But this is no different from grace.
There may not be the same kind of demand, the kind of demand that the world makes is usually accompanied with a threat as in “do this or else,” but not so with grace, there is no threat of you losing your salvation, of losing the love of God or the promises made and fulfilled in Christ.
Grace beckons us to get up out of the chair in front of the window and to see where it is piled high, but has gone unnoticed, where the grace of God, like snow has fallen upon those who do not see it, who do not perceive its power or its value.
It gives to us the vision to see the world in a new way, to see each other in a new way and to drop our nets and follow, to do and to be something new and different, to be the repairers of the breach, the hands and the feet of Christ on earth, whether shoveling the snow, or throwing it as a snowball.
Because like snow, grace is not meant to be observed, meant to be hoarded. It is to be moved about, tossed here and there, mounded up and torn down and then melted into the water that makes the meadows green, the meadow that feed the deer and the sparrow, the grace does not stop just as the snow does not stop, its benefits run on and on like the ever-flowing fountain that grace truly is.
You can just sit in the chair and watch but you will eventually find that such an experience of grace is all too fragile, all to ephemeral, like snow barely suspended on winters cold branches. If it ends with you, grace too becomes brittle, a meal not shared, a bottle not passed, an arm not extended.
We are beckoned outside and limiting ourselves to “projects” especially projects that happen here, on our premises, well that’s just dipping our toes into the grace that is all around us, that is like visiting Tahoe and thinking that we understand snow.
It is the kind of thing you need to immerse yourself in, the kind of thing that should run off of you like a spring rain because it was not meant to merely soak into you, it was meant to flow freely.
Because the neighbor and the neighborhood may not hear, may not know the grace that falls like snow and the peace that it can bring, the freedom, true freedom from fear and from the worry that we do not have enough, that we may never have enough.
For God alone their soul waits in silence.
It is up to us to break the silence, nobody else is coming to save them, God sent us. If we are stuck, if we are covered in the snowy-white silence of a blanket of snow, enraptured by God’s grace, God’s love for us, then who will come, who will show them the beauty of the life of faith, the life we all share?
We can act, though, we can act as if all of the rules have changed, as if we no longer had to hide, as if we no longer had to fear offering everything that we have for the sake of the grace we have come to know, that we have encompassed and which has encompassed us.
We can act in ways we ourselves might not have suspected were possible, impossibly brave, unacceptably foolhardy, we have the chance because we know that the snow will melt, that it will come and again and that it will melt again and that there will never be an end to grace either. It will fall on the righteous and the craven alike but we can go out and play in it, we can go out and work in it because God is always at work, always at play in the world around us.
Grace beckons. It is time to go out and play. It is time to go out and work.