By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
This morning I awoke to 18 inches of snow in my yard and snow still falling from the sky. There is the prediction that the snow will last into the evening hours. Could it be that we will receive the 20-30 inches that are now possible?
My southern bones make it so that I am not a big fan of the cold of winter, but I confess, I still get excited when snow is in the forecast. There is something pure and fresh about the snow. There is something mystical and holy about the snow. There is something still and peaceful about the snow.
This particular snow reminds me of a snow that my family experienced during my Jr. High years when we lived in Albemarle, NC. It was rare for us to miss much school because of snow. Winter temperatures hovered about freezing for the most part, making cold rains the norm. The trade off for that cold rain was the bright, crisp sunny days that we enjoyed.
That particular year brought a storm from the gulf with lots and lots of snow. At least we thought so. And school was closed for a whole week! Missing this much school was rare indeed, but during the 1970’s the south did not have equipment to deal with snow, so we just had to wait until temperatures warmed up and the snow melted.
During that week, as the days went by, I grew antsy. I wanted to be out of the house. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to go to school. I had run out of books to read. I was ready for things to be normal again. I think most of the others in our family felt the same way, except for one.
As the days went by, I noticed my father becoming more and more still and quiet. I would catch him gazing out the window or staring at the same page on a book for long periods of time. I would ask him what was wrong and he would reply: “Oh nothing, I am just thinking.” My father always had much to do, but those snow days he wasn’t busy. He was relaxed. He was still. He was at peace.
I didn’t understand then, but I understand now that at some point during a significant snow storm, such as we are experiencing now, it becomes possible to become still. There is stillness all around me this morning. The only traffic on my street has been the snow plows. The campus across the street is quiet, whereas last night the sounds of laughter, from the students on campus, echoed into the wee hours of the morning. My household is still. Even time seems to stand still with only the ringing of Wesley Chapel chimes, each quarter hour, reminding me that time is passing.
The time has come for my pre-storm fretting to be over as well. The concern for our Crosslines and Parish House neighbors is still deep in my heart, but at this time I have to trust God and our very dedicated emergency responders to take care of them. And know that if there is something that I can do, the Office of Emergency Management has my number.
And so, I embrace the stillness, the white world around me, the swirling white flakes that make me think that, for just a moment, I am living in a snow-globe!
The stillness, the silence is a gift. What do we do with it? As Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples he gave them some very profound words to remember. The words are recorded in John 14:27: “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.” (the Poverty and Justice Bible, Contemporary English Version).
If we choose to allow the stillness of this snowstorm to surround us, if we choose to embrace the profound quiet, if we are determined not to destroy the quiet with noise, we will receive a gift of profound and healing peace, deep in our souls, in the center of our lives. It will be in this stillness that we will become aware of God’s abundant love and presence, always a part of us, even when we are too noisy or busy to notice.
Our world is full of hatred and anger, injustice and violence, selfishness and self-centeredness and so much more. We find it difficult to listen to someone else, to understand another person’s life, to be patient as we seek to discover what we have in common and what can bring us together. We live in a world where the truth, as it is spoken, is not always true. We live in a world where all of us need to examine ourselves and see what needs transformation. When we slow down and embrace the deep peace of stillness, we can begin to see the world as God sees it and make changes within ourselves that can make a difference.
So, for me anyway, this snowstorm offers the chance to slow down and listen in the deep peace of stillness.
A decade ago, I had the chance to spend 36 hours in complete silence. It was part of a 10 day retreat and I knew that it was coming because I had the same experience a year before. At the beginning of the retreat I found myself longing for this Silent Sabbath. It was 9:00 pm when this Silent Sabbath began and I walked outside to discover 6 inches of snow had blanketed the area around the retreat center, including the outside Labyrinth that I had planned to walk to mark the beginning of the silent time.
I walked it anyway!
The walk was beautiful, cold and snowy, refreshing and just right to prepare me for hours of silence. From this experience came a poem. Even when I read it now I am transported back to that moment when the deep peace of stillness settled on me and brought joy:
This night, prayer
Is sheer joy
Wrapped in a million frozen stars
Sparkling and twinkling and whirling
As each one falls in a holy Sabbath dance all around me.
We call it snow,
But oh, it cannot be, for snow is merely
Frozen water, the result of a formula,
Of all things converging together
To get the right result.
This is not snow,
It is magic, it is joy,
It is delight, it is healing
It is prayer, it is Sabbath
It is freedom, it is peace.
(ARR 2/11/06, Shalem)
May we all embrace the deep peace of stillness and the changes it brings in us, for the sake of Christ in this world. May we all experience profound and life-changing joy.
To God alone be glory.