Sunday, November 26, 2006

Meteorological-theological free associations

When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was. And Moses told them, “It is the food Yahweh has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:14-15).

The Israelites had been complaining to God… I had been, too. But I had good reason. In Vancouver, in November, the rain was a constant, a given, a mathematical probability. My life was perpetual wet pant cuffs. Perpetual wiping off the droplets on my glasses that blurred my vision. Grey skies, leaves soaked to the point of disintegration, the musty smell of overcrowded buses full of dripping people. It was starting to dilute me; it was washing me down the drain. I, who thought myself immune to seasonal affective disorder, was melancholy.

I heard rumors of Saturday snow. I did not believe them, but when I woke up Saturday morning, I put on my long underwear. Just in case.

Chris and I disagree. She is for rain, and I am for snow. She enjoys rain on car windows. I long for a blanket of fresh snow on the tree-branches. I tell her snow is more beautiful. She says yes, but it comes with a prerequisite of chill. I’ll give her some grace, because she’s had to wait for the bus outside in snowy Saskatoon this week, in -30 degree cold. I told her to crochet herself a scarf. She said perhaps she’d crochet herself a bus shelter.

I saw them float down – those first few flakes. I was sitting, lonely, in the Regent library, working on Exegesis, and I happened to be glancing out the window. A smile crept from one side of my mouth to the other, and soon I was doing spinning dances on the inside. I watched it fall, spellbound. Exegesis was a million miles away.

I wonder if you could have made a ball out of manna. I wonder if, on that first morning, the Israelite kids looked at it in delight, if they sprinkled it in their hair and let it melt on their tongues. I wonder if they let it run through their fingers, if they piled it up and sat on it. Did any of them wake up early just to see it appear? I wonder if even the kids tired of it after a couple years. After forty years.

Vancouverians use umbrellas in snow. This is logical, I suppose. Snow is wet and falling from the sky, like rain. I’ve just never associated umbrellas and snow. I’ve definitely never seen umbrellas used that way in Saskatoon. Vancouverians also freak out slightly when it snows, not wanting to drive and such, but this is understandable, because it only happens one or two days a year. I must not be too critical… I admit that I’m going to stay inside tonight instead of going out to New West. I’ll be doing what all good Saskatchewanites do when it’s cold: playing card games. Dutch Blitz.

I walked home from the bus stop last night tongue-out. The snow came in wet clusters, catching in my hair and melting down inside my jacket. I didn’t care. It drifted lazily through the glow of the streetlights. It lighted on green hedges, unaware of the incongruity.

The people of Israel began to complain. “Oh, for some meat” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

It’s hard to love snow in Saskatchewan. It’s all you see for at least half the year. The first snow is always too soon; there is never enough autumn there. The first snow is the herald of deep cold. It marks the beginning of six months of shoveling, plugging in cars, icy ruts in roads, freezing ear-tips and pinky toes. A few prairie people can still find a place in their hearts for it (as I’m sure there were some Israelites who didn’t mind eating manna for so long). At best, the first snow is met by shaking heads and a chuckle, at worst, it is met by a serious reconsideration of why one has chosen this winter-heavy part of the world as a home. But in Vancouver, it’s much easier to love, because it only lasts a few days. It’s a clash, a wonder, a luxury. Hearts leap instead of sinking. At least from what I can tell. I’m sure some are frustrated. But many have their cameras out. Many have impromptu snowball fights. Many snowmen smiled at me today.

Last night, as roommates, we decided we should bundle up and make the most of the anomaly. We put on many layers. I think Lindsey had seven. I finally got to use the snow accessories that languish in the dark of my closet. “I’ve seen those in books!” said Danielle, pointing to my neck-warmer. We went to the ocean, because that’s where you go around here when you go outside. As we stood there, I realized the ocean doesn’t actually change when it’s snowing. But the beach looks like something out of a dream, as though someone turned a knob and increased the whiteness of the sand. I made a snow-and-sand angel. I ate some snow, thinking to myself that it was probably safer than Vancouver tap water. We sat on the cold beach and Danice told me that snow is actually alien sweat, which starts out orange in the orange sky and turns white as it falls, just like blood turning from blue to red when it mixes with oxygen.

Familiar pools of water under dripping snow clothes. Forgotten leg muscles coaxed into action again in the delicate process of walking without slipping. Tires spinning. Large clumps falling from the eaves and startling passers-by. The mischievous smile of a young snow-suited boy, aiming a carefully glove-crafted ball at his father’s back.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The snow of the last 24 hours has been divine sustenance to this displaced prairie girl. He provided the same thing for me last year in Vancouver, and five years ago in Belgium, with my insuppressible joy and delight as a predictable result each time. But if rain is to be my every-morning manna, I guess I should also learn to see His provision there and respond with gratitude. Matthew Kelly describes rain as God’s loving attention to his earth, a communication of life, a sign that all is well. I wish I could become a container and let it fill me instead of being washed out. Still, I will enjoy the peaceful white while it’s here. Kelly also says, “Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…”

As we walked back to the house last night, my roommates and I slid through the snow singing Christmas carols. We sang them loudly and out-of-key, dancing like people who don't care what they look like. Then we sang songs from the Sound of Music, which don’t have much to do with snow…except “Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes…” and “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

…a song which, by means of an association deeply ingrained in me (and logical to very few of you), brings the following words to mind:

Blessed art Thou
O Lord Our God
King of the Universe
Who brings forth bread from the earth…

Who brings forth bread from the heavens.
Who brings forth snow to feed me.


Anonymous said...

Isn't that how it is.
I have a friend who, after a month of only his hands to eat with, was absolutely floored when he finally had silverware again. His fork was a beautiful song, a finely and wonderfully crafted instrument, which not only satisfied his intent for cleanliness, but also for civility and the association of those things we're raised to recognize and eventually remind us of home.
After three days, he derived nothing but the most standard and bassest of utility from the same utensiles which had only three days earlier offered breathtaking joy.

If we can't be thankful for manna, snow or utensiles (neckwarmers, snow angels, parents to toss snowballs at, siblings, blankets, warm housing, libraries, books, good books, carpets, lightbulbs... ...), then our thankfulness is dead. Even the pagans can love their enemies; even the pagans are thankful for steak.

You are a continual source of encouragement for me, Beth, even from a million miles away. I try to remain thankful for you, even when I can't see you.

Thank you.

katevp-a said...

Beht you post is so lovely. While I have been hearing all about the SNow out west, i continually think of you and santosh getting snow snow SNOWWWWW


oh yeah, here in ottawa, we have had 50 days of rain in the past 72 (this is what my friend Karen tells me), maybe Ottawa is the new Vancouver