The snow outside my door is very deep, and it conceals much. The light of the sun, in its providential time, can melt it away to nothing. The labor of my own shovel-slinging hands, with stinging fingertips and numb nose and sweat beneath the wool cap, can remove it as well — less perfectly, less completely, but still there is profit in the work and the result. The sun, in a celestial time-lapse, strips bare the cold white expanse of what is hidden. The shovel, accompanied by my grunts and sighs, throws aside great scoops and exposes things both natural and unnatural.
And the snow in which I work is as its Sender intended. If it were a heavy, wet snow, I would quickly tire of trying to rearrange it; I might very well suffer the explosion of my aging heart in my cold chest. But it is a light snow, more crystalline than any I have ever seen, and my vision seems to have sharpened in the past day because I can see individual flakes as they drop onto the blue denim sleeve and pause for my gaze before soaking into this garment that covers me. It is a snow that requires work on my part, but the work is not impossible. I have a good shovel, and my back muscles still rouse themselves when I pull on my boots and gloves.
How artistic of my Father to come to me in flakes; how poetic of Him to come to me in pages. This morning’s reading in Proverbs 13 was approached after long pre-dawn meditation on my own desire to drink even deeper of who and what He is. And I could hear on the winter air a chorus of voices, arguing and protesting and justifying themselves against the warm granite of His truths.
4. The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
It is too hard, O Lord, to seek you on my own. Give me teachers and mediators. Give me someone to tell me what you want from me. I cannot hear your voice with my own ears, for you have ceased speaking in the twenty-first century.
7. One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
I love my MDiv, and I look at it every morning there on the wall. How can that scruffy old hillbilly be as happy as I?
11. Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
I don’t have much time; there is too much ministry to perform, too many unchurched to reach. Give me the best program and I will devour it. Trouble me not with the secret closet and the plain-text Scripture.
12. Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
If You won’t answer me now, You must be all past speaking to the sons of Adam. I cannot bear the silence, so I will fill it with activity. This will satisfy me for the hour, or perhaps two.
20. Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Surely the high-tithers are wise, for they understand. What do the quiet ones know of Christian joy? Why must they walk so much alone? What makes them forsake the assembly of the wise?
As the snow yields to sun and blade, the true land is revealed, firmer and realer than the natural sense would perceive. My Father is teaching me some things, answering my cries for more and more and more. The very process of spiritual thawing and rebirth, crudely illustrated each spring, is increasingly powerful and real to me, beyond words or the ability to even fully express them to any living person.
For the child of God, known and loved by Him before all times or things, first comes the awakening to vision, to the fact that our Father is still revealing himself to His children, in an active, dynamic fashion. This awakening is sometimes, as it was in my case, accompanied by strong fear. Fear that one has stepped into some danger zone, some place of unrepairable peril. Fear of being labeled a heretic. This is the message the churches of today publish at high volume. “Stay here with us. We have the words of life.” This fear may last for a long, bitter, dark season. But once the falsehood of the fear is recognized and seen in clear divine light, it falls away like snow from a pine bough. And the sharp hunger for more of Him replaces the fear and takes hold of our inward parts.
But just as this hunger begins to roil within us comes the needful rite of affliction. Here is where our Father will thresh us and throw us high in the violent wind, letting us fall into His basket, separated bit by bit from the chaff clinging to us. And for some of us, the mere recognition of one’s life lived without divine illumination, is itself a type of high affliction.
After this comes the recognition that this world, its systems, and particularly its organized religions (especially the ones coming in the name of our firstborn Elder Brother) are infected with something we must reject and reject completely. This “something” is two-headed: lingering fear and the urge towards self-protection. At this stage, with the mere recognition of these twin millstones between which we are being ground, the power of forgiveness enters the heart. And here is where we begin to truly imitate our Father. What does He do that is truly Godly? He forgives. And when we begin to imitate Him in this extraordinarily difficult act, we take those steps towards being holy as He is holy, and we undertake a true imitation of Christ.
What steps lie beyond these, I do not know, for I have neither seen them nor experienced them. But His truths and His ways are given as I ask for them, as I seek for them, as my hand, frail but familiar to the Father, knocks on that massive door.
May our Father’s name be praised and glorified forever and ever.