Thus far, the new year's theme song should be "In the Bleak Midwinter": "Snow was falling, snow on snow, snow on snow." On snow, on snow, on snow, one fall after another, with small flurries practically every second day, or so it feels. We're all going a little batty with cabin fever, and we lack that usual thrill at waking to a morning made new by fresh snow. For starters, it's getting tough to figure out where to put the stuff.

But it's beautiful, no doubt whatsoever about that. Thursday was a lovely day, with a deep clear blue sky--chilly, but not really cold. I remember thinking, walking back from the grocery store, that days like this were a photographer's dream. The light bounced off snow that had half-melted and recrystalized into magic. Even the slushy bits were gorgeous--taupe lace with glints of silver. And the shadows lay softly blue across yards as purely white as new cotton.

And then on Friday, we all woke to the rarest of winter conditions. Clearly Thursday had been mild enough and damp enough, with the right combination of surface temperature, air temperature, humidity, whatever, to give rise to winter ground fog. I'd run into a fair bit of this fog off and on in the last little while: strange, driving through patches of mist in February...

Thursday night must have been very foggy, because on Friday morning, each and ever bare twig and sprig of evergreen was encased by most fragile of frostings: fine, crystalline snow. But this snow had formed on and around these surfaces, not fallen from the sky. The underside of each twig held as much snow as the top. Sort of like the glaze ice that encases twigs in freezing rain, only instead of ice, this was fluff.

I can imagine how it goes: how crystals form because of tiny temperature differentials between twig and air, and each crystal nucleates the growth of more crystals, and so on and so forth: water gently settling into the growing structure, the whole delicate mass poised so precisely. One good breath of wind and it would vanish, blown away--it must have been extraordinarily still, overnight. Remarkable.

I may be snow-jaded, but the fog-frost was so gorgeous that I had to stop at each window of the house I passed, to look out and marvel at it. All my ordinary scrubby shrubs transformed, the spruce trees out back turned into something from very good Japanese artwork--I hadn't seen anything quite like it, not in 29 Canadian winters. Maybe it was God reminding us snow-weary cabin-fevered Canajuns that there is still beauty out there, even in the depths of February.

And then I thought, this is how faith grows sometimes. Now, as Isak Dinesen wrote, "There are many ways to the knowledge of truth, and burgundy is one of them." There are many ways to the worship of God: the angel-wrestling marathon, the knock-you-off-your-donkey experience, the faith-of-our-fathers hand-off, the Jesus-meet --all of them perfectly good ways, because God takes the time and trouble to meet us where we are, not where we might be. One problem, of course, is that we tend to think that our way is the only way--as though the geese would flight north in the spring only by a single route... But that doesn't leave much space for our human diversity. I think God loves us enough to customize the business.

I've done a fair bit of angel-wrestling myself, but for me, finding faith has mostly been a quiet business: small nucleations that form the basis and pattern for accretal growth, as the fine crystals formed overnight on each lilac twig by the kitchen window. At the time, anything big and dramatic wouldn't have worked for me, given where I was, so God got sneaky about it, finding tiny, quiet ways of making himself part of my landscape. And still it seems to me that much of what I learn about faith, I learn this way: understanding crystallizing quietly out of fog.

But that's wrong, in one sense. The lilac twigs are passive in the process; they have nothing to say to the snow forming along them in the damp stillness of a winter night. They're just a passive platform for a process that would happen to any available surface, regardless. We have to be part of our own conversions. Maybe God has to play rough, as he did with Saul on the road to Damascus --I have the feeling that Saul loved playing rough!--but ultimately, it's up to Saul to say Yes to the process. Another person might get knocked off her donkey, shake herself off, get back on the donkey and ride off in the same direction without giving the incident a second thought. I bet it happens all the time.

Faith could grow gently in me because I was willing to let it do that. Where that willingness comes from is another matter. I'll bet my best earrings that it, too, varies from person to person: whether it's a glad or fearful business, an openness or a flat-out fight. No two of us are the same, any more than any two snowflakes are identical. It boggles my mind, that God could remember and treasure all these differences and be willing to work with them, but then, God does boggle the mind. (And any mind that remains unboggled in the face of God hasn't really thought about God very much.)

It may seem to us here, in the middle of February, that it's just one damned snowfall after another, but the snow-fog miracle reminds us that no, it's one gift of beauty after another, even if we can't seem to see it always. Thanks, Lord, for reminding us.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 17 Feb 2001
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