Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter

Winter - the frosty clouds of breath in the air, the wind reddening cheeks and noses, the pinch of cold in one's lungs. Dark skeletons of trees against the sky, mouldering piles of dead-brown, fallen leaves, and the low grey clouds that hint of snow.

While not my favorite month of the year, I still enjoy the poetry of winter. I appreciate the fact that things must die before they can live again, and winter is that part of the cycle - death. Plants 'die', going into the dormant stage, where nothing grows. The grass fades from a lush, verdant green to a dull, greying brown. The cold is bitter, the wind is harsh, the elements unforgiving. One should dress warmly, or the cold shall seep into your bones, holding you tight in its chilling grasp.

But always after winter and death, there is the promise of spring and new life again. Flowers, daring and brazen, push their colorful heads from beneath layers of frozen earth and snow, urging the blanket of white to melt and disappear. The early spring flowers are conquorers, daring to face the bitter winter and demand that it give way to pleasant spring. Dying on the battle lines, frost etching their cold petals, they make way for the rest of the flowers. Most of the first flowers are hardy enough that the outlast any artillary with which Winter can blast them, while others must fight the instinctive urge to bow and succumb to the wind and rage of winter's ice.

Winter's cold is bitter, and most animals burrow away, sleeping until spring returns. Others thrive on winter's chill, like the chickadees, bright and cheerful, black and gray against a white backdrop of snow. The green growing things have winter-lovers, too. The bright nandinas and the holly plants glow with a red and green fervor that rivals the Christmas lights. While other trees drop their leaves, shivering naked in the cold, evergreens keep their needles, dark sprucey green against the grays and whites of winter.

Many people hate the cold, the death, the cheerless grey of sky and earth. But when it snows, a white blanket covers the earth, giving the world a sense of peace, of unity. It as though the universe bows to a greater cause, bending its knee to the Creator who fashioned each lilting crystal flake by hand.

Snow always reminds me of the One who created it. Unsullied, it hides the grey and brokeness of the frozen ground, blanketing all things in a uniform white. It softens the edges of the world and muffles the hurried sounds of life. As it sparkles in the light, each flake unique, and yet all together one, in awe I whisper, "Emmanuel." God with us. Here to dwell. White and spotless, innocent. The Lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world.

Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Wash me, and I will be made whole.

Clean, pure snow is a sparkling white. And yet with the crimson blood of Emmanuel, Messiah, your soul can be whiter than snow. To think that the Lord of heaven and earth, who holds the universe in His very hand, who created all things with words, and holds all things together... to think that He died so that my soul can be whiter than snow.

It is an amazing thought.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Raindrops and Leaves

It's raining - cold, tiny drops that wish they were snowflakes. I lift my face to the cloudy skies and smile, the droplets wetting my face. I stick out my tongue, as if to catch a snowflake, but the rain avoids it, an errant drop falling into my eye. I blink and shake my head like a wet dog.

I wish it would snow. I like snow, though we rarely get it here. The squeaky, crunching sound it makes under my boots, the soft coldness of it as I form it into a ball to throw at a sibling. The intricacies of each unique flake, born for but a moment - a crystal design for one second before it melts away on my arm. To think that each snowflake, each unique and perfect ice crystal, was designed by God, personally designed by God, for an express purpose. This one to melt on my tongue, that one on my arm, those thousand to be balled together and thrown at a sibling, who laughs, their cheeks glowing red in the cold.

At the other end of the leash in my hand, the dog stops, literally pulling me back to reality. I rub my thumb against the black leather, the leash warm from my hand. The dog snuffles in the frost covered grass and dead leaves by the side of the road, and I let my mind drift again.

Leaves - dead, brown, dry, brittle. It's funny how you don't really notice leaves until they're on the ground and you have to rake them into a pile by the road, or around a tree. You might notice their birth, as they brazenly begin to break forth in the spring. Or you might enjoy the shade that they give in the hot summer. You take pictures, or think about taking pictures, of their brilliant colors in the autumn.

And then they die. Bright oranges darken to a muddy brown, reds fade and dry, yellows begin to have age spots and know that their time is coming. Then, one by one, some in gusts, some gently, they fall from the trees. Death of the leaves. They drift and scatter, some crunching under feet, others moldering against the ground, wet and soft from rain and dew.

The raking begins. The great funeral we put on for the leaves. In the barren branches, the wind sings a requiem. We grab the rakes and head out to the yard, wearing sweatshirts and grumbling a bit. The piles by the road grows. So do the black plastic bags, funeral finery, the best send off we think to give the fallen leaves.

Frost comes, sometimes snow. The leaves lie forgotten. Dead and gone, they lived their lives, some noticed, some not. Like humans, some had brilliant glory, while others just hung in there, unnoticed, unremarked upon. Some leaves still linger, dead and shriveled on the trees, their empty shells, devoid of life, rattling in the wind.

My feet beat a cadence on the asphalt, and the rain tickles my face. Like the vivid leaves which one notices, I want to make a difference, be it ever so small and so easily forgotten as the leaves that come and go with the seasons. To burn out bright, so that you notice when it's gone.

Like leaves, humanity is tossed and battered by the turbulent winds of life. We can be different, each with our own color, shape, and size, like the tiny, but brilliant red of a Japanese maple or the big, bright yellow of a poplar. Or we can be uniform and drab, always doing whatever anyone else does, always going with the flow, like the millions of leaves on a willow-oak tree, small and slim, an unremarkable green that fades to an equally unremarkable brown.

God calls us to live a life that is different. We need to live each day knowing that we're making a difference with our lives, whether we will or no. And that difference needs to be a change for good, not for ill. What you say, the way you act - such a seemingly small or insignificant thing can, quite literally, change the world.