It snowed last night here in western New York. That’s not exactly news, but in the five years since we moved back to this area, we’ve never gotten six-plus inches before Thanksgiving. So, in that regard, it was noteworthy. We got a few flurries through the afternoon, but nothing really stuck. When I took the dog out around 10 o’clock, however, it was really coming down, and the scene was picture-perfect: a steady stream of snowflakes tumbling from the sky, the hush of soft movement, the orange glow the streetlight casts on the sheet of white in the front yard, and the occasional swoosh of a car moving down the already-plowed street. The temperature had dipped below freezing, and, as I was underdressed, I had intended this to be a quick trip, but as I stood watching the silent scene, something inside me compelled me to stop and stare.
At the Hutchmoot gathering in Nashville last month, author Jeffrey Overstreet was talking about the importance of play in the life of an artist. He suggested that being captivated, caught up in something bigger than ourselves, as an artist, is magnetic. And then, he went on to underscore the importance of solitude and contemplation in our spiritual lives. It went something like this: silence leads to reflection, which leads to appreciation, which leads to gratitude. Inevitably, reflexively, we’re looking for someone to thank. So, who do you thank?
John Piper has said that the feeling of gratitude is “other-exalting, not self-exalting.” In those times of solitude and reflection, introspection becomes inevitable, and I find myself slipping out of the self-exalting mode I’m so often locked in. This makes me a much more pleasant person to be around, I am sure. But it also opens my soul up to receive, creating space for these kinds of moments. Again, solitude and gratitude seem to be linked somehow.
One of my favorite Over the Rhine Christmas songs – and there are so many – is from their Snow Angels album, called “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming).” Like many OTR Christmas songs, it acknowledges that Christmas isn’t a time of blissful happiness like the Hallmark commercials would have you believe. “So it’s been a long year/Every new day brings one more tear/Till there’s nothing left to cry,” sings Karin Berquist. But then, she hits the chorus, “Darlin’ Darlin’, the snow is falling/Falling like forgiveness from the sky.” I’ll confess, the impending Christmas season, the awareness of incarnation and all its world-changing, death-killing consequences, can’t be instantly activated, like flipping the switch on the Christmas tree lights. It runs smack up against all sorts of struggles and trials; in short, real cold life.
But when it starts snowing.
Lord help me, but when I stand out under the jet-black dome of night and hear the sound of silence and see the ground slowly, steadily covered by all-consuming whiteness, I swear it’s like grace falling all over again.
And it’s a lot easier to thank someone.
Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the snow.