Steeling for Snow

I shoveled the walk
yesterday, leaving my snow
blower to rest, warming
up to its summer
hibernation. I settled
on the old fashioned scrape
of metal against concrete –
content with the push and pull
of these two, their force
felt in the vibration of
the wooden handle,
occupying my hands.

This steel shovel, so much heavier than its burden,
is a solid reminder of the days before plastic
when we lived a little closer to the earth.

The snow blower was
bought to hedge my
bets against heart attacks
and such. It is much
appreciated and yet some
days the nearly silent to and fro
of shovel sits well with
the serene snow about to go –
even though it only just arrived,
from far too far for me to
put it back from whence
it came.

Hope is Where the Heart Is

Winter arrived while we were away last weekend. We left Kitchener while the grass was yet green, but came back to 10 cm or so of snow on the lawn. This was doubled yesterday, and weather reports advise more of the same over the next few days. It’s looking like this year will be rather unlike the last, which was devoid of snow. I am happy for this, a thought discussed by my wife and I the other night on our drive home after curling. We both like our winters here. We grew up in Alberta, where the cold can be quite a bit more severe. Here there is more snow, less cold and a shorter winter. This seems amiable to us. We like four season, but are happy to avoid extremes. It is likely that our distant ancestors, from Scandinavia and environs, knew weather more like ours than that of our childhood.

We wondered what those first winters must have been like for our families – more accustomed to Danish, Western European and coastal Norwegian winters – arriving on the prairies with its sharp winters. Still, they survived and even thrived. Humans are resilient creatures, and hope for a better life pulls us through situations of all sorts. Hope is a hardy virtue.

During our last week in class, we had occasion to talk of the nature of hope, and its relation to doubt. I spoke of Paul Tillich’s insistence that certainty, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. This seed feel solidly in a few souls in class, and so I began to see some fruit here and there in term papers. Some students spoke, quite eloquently I might add, of their liberation in hearing this concept – new to them. One, in particular, wrote of how it helped her feel at home in her skin and make sense of scripture that was once obtuse to her. Giving a little room for not-knowing was freeing for her. I spoke recently to another student, of Rahner’s “Faith in a Wintry Season,” that speaks to the surprising persistence of faith in times that one might imagine capable of extinguishing it. Winter, was for him, a metaphor for those occasions that test faith true. Maybe that is why I am so warm on winter.

On the other hand, I am not so fond of the certainty I see in some adherents of faith. I am all for confidence, but confidence is located in the Divine while certainty, it seems, lands on the doorstep of the self. Winter is a season that points us to the Other and others. The other day, to illustrate, while snow-blowing our drive way, and the sidewalk on our half of the block, I saw many of my neighbours out assisting theirs in this way or that. Winter presses us to the necessity of looking out for the other. It is a season that announces our need, and nothing is as friendly for faith as need.

Shakespeare’s “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” points us to summer’s reprieve, but while we travel still in this winter season, we do well to let our eyes follow the soft contours of snow on snow on snow, on branches ever green. Under this wintry blanket we find that hope that does not disappoint. Hatred may rage, but hope stills us; spite alienates but faith enfolds. And in our wintry faith we find time for being , for being still, and for still being hopeful.

In the Palm of my Heart

With this first fall of
Snow, I felt You
In the spaces
Between these feathery
Fingered flakes:
No two alike
Each sketching another

Contour of you;

Each etching You into

Me, melting

In the palm of my heart.

You are Between.
You are Before and Behind.
You are Below and Above.
And when the cold comes
I cannot but be – by
Grace – as crystal,
As liquid iced
Like lace.

Pining for a Little Snow

I am hoping to change the background photograph on stillvoicing. I try to bring in a new image for each season, something I have shot recently. Often the photograph is from our neighbourhood, or an image from my walk home from work. I especially aim to reflect the season, which has been a bit vexing this year. Winter has been coming in fits and starts. There has been a bit of snow, but not enough has stuck around for long enough to get a decent photo. We have been slipping, too frequently, into that kind of weather one expects in March, my least favourite month. But during my walk to church this morning, the skies opened for a time, and down floated opulent feather like flakes. I was able to make out single snowflakes a few paces in front of me, and so in a strange sort of way, they drew attention to the space between them. For a time, I wasn’t walking down the street so much as through air punctuated with miniature clouds. It was nice to feel winter.

And even though the snow hasn’t consistently abetted my sense of the season, the sun has been of aid. We still have rather short days, although I am already able to note their gradual lengthening. All the same, it is dark enough after supper to light some candles around the house. I find this to be a ritual that reframes the evening, allowing it to proceed under that gentle illumination that speaks a particular kind of hope: soft, quiet, and calming. This, it seems to me, can be the gift of winter: an invitation to be away even while at home.

Last Friday, my wife and I went out for a movie, and upon returning our eldest and her friend popped by for coffee, wondering whether the power had been out earlier that evening in our part of town. We did not return to any flashing lights, so it seems that this was not the case. They reported that it went out where they were and it was dark long enough to break out the candles. They, too, noted something acutely beautiful about a time without power. A candled evening, rather like a snow day, unravels our overly calendared agendas; these forced sabbaticals settle our souls into the realization that we are not in charge.

In the midst of a course I co-taught with a Jewish scholar last semester, on the book of Exodus, we spoke about the Sabbath. While he referenced his regular observance of a day at rest, I relayed my utter failure. He noted that keeping Sabbath is difficult without communal support. It is hard work not to work without spiritual and cultural infrastructures. That struck me as true, and one of our students spoke of her commitment to 24 hours without home-work, etc. over the last few years, noting what I knew to be true: working less sometimes allows us to get more done. So Sabbath is something I have been working toward over the last little while. It is challenging – especially when deadlines loom and I am tempted to do just a little more – but every now and then the power’s failure shuts down computers, or the snow slows the commute, and I am reminded that I need to slow down, we all need to slow down: for the good of our bodies and souls, our planet, and simply to make some time for joy.

I am well aware that many people are quite happy with our relatively snow-free winter. Some would rather be rid of winter altogether, but I am reminded of how my parents and their generation used to speak of winter in terms that brought hibernation to mind. And while we cannot recreate their culture, which made possible something of a Sabbath season, perhaps there is another way into the best of that that mindset. It just might be that a weekly 24 hour break is a good start. Wish me luck.

Winter’s Reach

Not far from here,
sequestered in
forgotten cracks of
hidden boards below
decks scattered across
this city, winter
awaits. At just the
right moment
reaching out with
a tentacle of frost –
slipping across graying
once green grass – it will
Midas in silver and we will
awaken in a diamond.
And then, with purity, it will pounce
and pronounce us its subjects –
for a time,
for a time.

Redeeming Winter

I thought of this title yesterday afternoon as I went for a ski. I am not a serious skier, but an eager one. Had I more time, I would strap these magical sticks to my feet more often. Given the amount of snow we have had this winter, readers might well imagine that I have spent a lot of time out skiing this year. Alas this has not been the case. It is either too cold to ski comfortably (below 20 degrees Celsius) or warm and snowing buckets of white. Alternately, it rains. Yesterday was the first day in the New Year when the stars aligned and I got out. It was glorious.

The snow has been sculpted by the wind, and as I made my way westward, cresting a hill of our local golf course, I looked down and imagined myself floating across windswept waves frozen in time. The crust of the snow looked exactly like an ocean’s break upon the shore. I suppose at some point, each molecule of water I skied across had one day crested across a shore somewhere, sometime. And the hard water that bore my skis today could vey well one day buoy my boat, and water my plants, and bathe my body. But today it struck a pose, frozen for a time.

I love to ski, but it always begins with an uphill battle. There are tasks: getting changed, prepping the skis, driving to the golf course where I ski, etc. But once I get going I feel good, very good about the decision. I imagined, yesterday, as I skied, that this experience redeems winter. There is something about getting out – especially for something fun – that reorients my attitude to winter. I appreciate its ponderous beauty in a new way, feeling included in it. Winter is no longer the enemy.

I like the ambiguity of the word “redeeming’ in my title. We can understand it verbally and imagine that winter is redeemed. But the word can also serve as an adjective describing winter: winter is a redeeming season. This too is true. Winter is the time of earth’s rest, and an invitation to all of us to slow down. The other day I was visiting with friends and we recalled rural stories of slower times in winters past. Not only the earth was rejuvenated, but the inhabitants she hosts, too, were renewed. This is lost on too many of us, and I suspect that many people’s distaste with winter has to do with unacknowledged loss of the gift of Sabbath.

Well, I always feel better after having gone skiing. This is true for so many things in life, things that are good: for us, for our beloved, for the earth. And with so many of these things we discover that curious grace, or promise, written into the logic of creation: listening to the cadence of creation is to encounter the wisdom of the Creator, calling us to be, to observe, to accept enough as enough.

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Dear friends, this was written early Sunday morning just as the ice storm fell upon us. Shortly thereafter we lost our power and internet both. Power came back late Sunday, and we still await restoration of internet service. I managed to sneak this on via my daughter’s cell phone. So here it is, late but possibly made better by its accompanying wishes for a blessed holiday on this Christmas Eve.

_____________

The threat of having weather intrude inside is equally frightful. It seems, however, that something of this is occurring in southern Ontario. A severe ice storm warning is in effect for our region and beyond (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/major-ice-storm-hits-ontario-1.2472721). Power has already fallen in parts of the province as lines weighed down with ice collapsed under the strain of wind. People are advised to stock their shelves. Some years ago, a significant population of ours and Quebec were powerless for a significant chunk of time.
For someone who grew up in Alberta, I am always struck by the beauty and absurdity of ice storms. They were rare, very rare in my recollection. A quarter of an inch of ice so solid that it makes scraping the car window nigh impossible was not a part of my childhood experience, while it is of my children’s. This rugged beauty makes me imagine that there is something jarring about nature’s beauty.
There is a fundamental beauty in the power of nature. It reminds us that we are not in charge. It reminds us that we need to look to one another for support in facing the onslaught of forces beyond our control. It reminds us that God alone can promise a future, can redeem a past, can imbue my present with meaning and grace. Nature invites me to look up, but also to look around me.
I write this early, very early Sunday morning. The trees are bearing down under the ice and wind. I am safe in my little brick house. The Theilman family built this house so well 60 some years ago that we can hardly hear the wind gusts outside. My gas fireplace comforts me. All seems well inside, but the beauty outside is harsh in this longest night of the year. Earth may be deep in sleep but she is tossing and turning, thrashing in these sheets of white. I alone am awake in my house, which seems fitting since there is a kind of a solitude that comes with this weather, a solitude that is simultaneously a worry and a relief. It is a worry because the possibility of harm in ice storms is real. People die in these sorts of storms. One cannot under-estimate the power of nature, and its seemingly capricious nature. On the other hand, nature sometimes seems to force Sabbath on us. With its arrival comes a forced facing up to our humanity, to God’s majesty, and to the earth’s incomprehensibility.
Christians and Jews will recall that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” from Psalm 24:1. The weather , too, is the Lord’s and the beauty therein. If this weather has you hunkering down, use this time to recall the gift of community and the beauty of a world made strange by icicles that cross- etch creation, by sheets of silver refracting the subdued sun. Take some time, since this is time given you to recall that we are not God, individually nor collectively. And while an ice storm is not, in my humble opinion, an “act of God” as so many disclaimers in insurance policies purport, it surely Is used by God to awaken a chastened sense of self and a revive some sense of community. If you are someone under the assault of the storm on this Sunday, takes some time to soak in the beauty of it all and to witness the poetry of an earth that proposes that today a comma, a pause, a full stop might be in order.