I have a confession to make: I love the winter we’re receiving this year. My pleasure in the snow and the wind and the cold is, admittedly, deeply impractical. Shoveling out my driveway is time-consuming, back-painful work. Driving my kids to school this morning took an hour and a half. Seeing a vehicle just a few cars ahead on 80th Avenue go off the road is about all the reminder in the world I need that loving heavy snowfall may be a species of folly.
But I do love it, incorrigibly. I love the way snow lies along the branches of oaks in our quad, especially when you stare at them against a cold blue sky. I love how snowfall makes our street in Midlothian so quiet. Cars go by as silent as hover craft. I love the way the world seems bottom-lit at night, glowing blue. I love the way that every road feels like a road less traveled.
If you’re feeling irritated by this encomium for snowfall (look the word up, Honors Students; it’s a good and useful one), you are probably in the right. I am omitting to talk about the millions and millions of dollars we are forced to spend in Chicago on snow removal. We have something like twenty million allocated for that task, and we’ve already spent fifteen, just to prepare the way of commuters on their way to work. There’s something properly troubling about how hard it is for us to make our own paths straight.
If you’ve been attending chapel, you may have caught the allusion there to Mark’s Gospel. Or rather to John the Baptist’s sermon. Or rather to Isaiah’s clarion call for something like snowplows, six hundred years before Christ: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!” I hear this as a strong word of endeavor. A word of challenge and summons. And sometimes, I confess, I try to respond by strapping on my snowplow and making the road straight for—me.
But there’s another word in this passage that helps to situate Isaiah’s call. Just a few verses later, the Father says to the Son, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That may be the word we need to hear first, the word that helps us hear Isaiah’s summons to road-clearing with humility. Before you are a plower of paths, you are a much loved child.
I think that maybe I like snowfall because it recalls me to childlikeness. Snow reconfigures the world, covering ugly strip mall parking lots and bedazzling used car lots. The woods on 167th Street this morning looked like some sort of fairy land. My own house on Millard Avenue looks like a snowfort. Snow makes every space a clearing for wonder. And that wonder allows for a needed perplexity. I have to find my left mitten and my right snow boot, after all. And then, after I’m all snowsuited up, it’s still perplexing to know how to prepare the way of the Lord in my work sundry callings. You probably find it bewilderingly hard to make straight roads through your accounting assignment or your biochem course or your Honors Work in the Major research project. But before you fire up your winter service vehicle and lower your giant side wing blade, hear again this word:
You are beloved. With you, the Father could not be more pleased.