Dear brothers and sisters,
Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold,
drops of dew and flakes of snow.
Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him forever.
- Canticle 12 (BCP, p. 88)
Rarely has a Prayer Book text seem more apt! I have never before devoted one of my monthly letters to the weather; but then, I have never before experienced a winter quite like this one. Northern Indiana veterans tell me that the winter of 1978 by far exceeded this winter in sheer overwhelming ferocity. That may well be so. But as a relative newcomer, a mere 14 years, I’m still coming to terms with the daily grind that Mother Nature (or Old Man Winter) has set in our path. We can all, I imagine, tell stories about the demands that winter has placed before us . . . snow blowers perpetually fired up, dogs shivering in the cold as we take them for brisk (and hopefully brief) walks, travel plans cancelled and re-cancelled. In South Bend the city has twice banned all but emergency vehicles from the streets and threatened $2,500 fines for those who violate the prohibition. I’ve had two Sunday visitations scrubbed because the long-distance driving simply wasn’t safe.
So the Prayer Book text indeed seems apt – apt, and also ironic. How can “chill and cold . . frost and cold, ice and sleet” actually glorify the Lord?
The Bible makes a surprising claim about the natural order, about the landscape and the weather and the cosmic and seismic phenomena that we must inescapably confront: that the natural order reveals something about God’s character. Thus the psalmist can say, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The many-splendored lights in the sky point beyond themselves to the Creator. So does the earth and its wonders: “I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” (Psalm 121:1). Gazing at the mountains, the Psalmist ponders the One who made them. The Apostle Paul himself makes a connection between nature and God’s self-revelation. “What can be known about God is plain to [the Gentiles], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20a).
Nature is not fool-proof, however, as a source of God’s revelation. The prophet Elijah – fleeing from his enemy, King Ahab – stands on Mount Sinai and experiences a dizzying variety of natural phenomena. “A great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in a cloak” (1 Kings 19:11b-13a). Sometimes nature speaks to us in God’s voice, the Bible tells us – but sometimes not. Most profoundly we experience God’s presence in Jesus, the Word Made Flesh. “For the God who said, ‘Let light sine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Then what of winter’s fierce onslaught? Is God speaking in “chill and cold . . . frost and cold, ice and sleet”? I must be careful not ascribe too much to the Polar Vortex. But in any case, I’ve learned some valuable spiritual lessons. Nature is uncontrollable, a reminder that God himself cannot be tamed. (Aslan, Mr. Beaver tells Peter, Lucy, and Susan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is not a safe lion; but he’s good.) Nature too reminds us that God is a God of surprises. He intervenes in our lives when we least expect him, helps us to see our utter dependence upon grace. Winter, in fact, has been filled with grace – like the time a few weeks ago when a neighbor, without my asking, cleared my driveway of snow. “Why did you do it?” I asked him. He shrugged and said that he had a “hunch” that I needed the help. Where did the hunch come from?
Even in the bleak midwinter, when earth is “hard as iron, water like a stone,” when “snow [has] fallen snow on snow, snow on snow” (Hymn 112), we catch glimmers of the all-powerful God who loves us with love beyond our imagining.
Yours in Christ,