Wednesday, 13 January 2010

God I snow here II

There are always lessons to be learnt from a gift from God. They tend to be power packed, working on many layers; some deeper than others; some almost hidden and some we would prefer to keep that way.
The snow is definitely a case in point. It is difficult to keep up the enthusiasm, the sense of wonder, the simple physical and emotional energy that it takes to deal with such enchantment. It is hard to pay attention all the time; - to be warm enough, to eat well, to walk gingerly through furrows of snow over ice, to drive well on gritted roads and then to find yourself sliding uncontrollably, backwards, down a side street coated in black sheets of ice.
It’s impossible to stay home, the ‘snow-go’ challenges not the nation’s economy but the day to day living of families reliant on overtime, daily rate pay, self-employment. Sixth formers have exams to take; everyone needs an education; the local hospital is seeing 300 people a day with ‘snow’ injuries; clinics are closed; tragedies have happened. Snow brings its own contrasts – life becomes black and white – needs over wants. Which is not so bad when you can fulfil your needs – but what if you can’t.
I was in church, closed for the week because of the weather and our temperamental heating, but needing to be divested of its faded Christmas finery. Is there anything colder than an empty church on a winter night? Fingers froze and toes became numb as I moved around the space, clearing away the tinsel, the brittle Advent wreath and the gutted candles. And then the crib; each figure cradled in my arms as they were put away for another year; each character receiving its own escort to a place of refuge. The walk down the aisle towards the outside world framed in the glass doors; the solid black sky and the still deep and sparkling snow filled carpark; the orange glow of street lights and blue beams of the occasional car making its way warily down the still hazardous road. Winter inside and out.
Then a car headlight caught the gleam of bags filling the collection basket near door; we had been collecting food and clothing for our local shelter for the homeless. Then it struck me, I, we may have had to make changes in our lifestyles but we still had choices. We were doing with less, but we were not really doing without ; and despite the concerns and commitment to the shelter, the people we were helping were very much on the periphery of our thoughts; ghost people – ‘the homeless’. We were ticking a box marked ‘Acts of Mercy’ that caused us very little trouble. And what was I doing? Fussing over painted, plaster saints when flesh and blood brothers and sisters were out there; blood freezing in their veins; knowing the wildness of snow; its indifference; its bitterness. Holding one of the shepherds, I wondered what my reaction would be if a similarly rag-tag group knocked at the church door tonight, I hoped I would give them shelter; I believe I would; but would I have taken then home? What would I have done tomorrow?
And isn’t that the challenge? The wonder of what we are asked to do? There is another play on words often used to encourage us to prayer and contemplation – the idea that we are human ‘beings’ not human ‘doings’. Which is lovely when you are trying to justify to others that you need the time to be with God through silence and stillness; as Jesus often did – but not always. Because Jesus said ‘whatever you do to the least of these you do to me’ –‘doing’ is part of life too. And, out in the bleakness of winter, in the relentless arctic cold, there were people walking in God’s footprints, the Lord’s hands in their gloves, caring for the least of these and this night all I could do was sit with the shepherd and pray, giving thanks for those that ‘do’ for those who prove that God is not nowhere.

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