Wednesday, December 30, 2009


There’s no question about it. Tonight was a night worth braving the wind chill below zero. A brilliant moon hung in the clear sky, and a brisk wind stirred up the powdery snow into fanciful sprays. As I stepped out into the open field, the whole world was reduced to black, white and blue grey. Civilization became nothing but a border to the scene, which seemed to be composed mainly of sky, and the field spread like a white tablecloth beneath.

There is a beauty in winter that is lost in the verdant embellishments of the other three seasons. It is beauty borne of utter simplicity, and invigorated by the austerity of wind and ice and snow and cold. It provides a perfect setting for thinking.

I set out into the field, perfectly alone, except for my shadow, traced sharply against the snow. The snow had been chiseled all day by the wind, cut into scalloped ridges that looked like the frozen ripples of a wave, suspended in the act of flooding onto the beach. In other places, dips in the field had collected the powdered snow like fine sand in the wrinkles of a picnic blanket. Restless wind occasionally picked up some of the snow and tossed it a couple yards away, or shooed it along from its resting place, making it slither across the crust.

I had mourned the fact that there was no one to join me on my walk, to share the beauty and the wonder. Yet as my solitary boots crunched and squeaked in the snow, the night, while leaving me utterly alone, seemed to keep me company. Or perhaps more accurately, when the coming of night had stripped away the usual distractions of daylight, I was more ready to sense the presence of the One Who had created all the beauty before me.

I looked up at the stars, and thought of a scene in one of my favorite books, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. A girl, recently bereft of her father, was standing on the widow’s walk with Nat, the main character. Together they looked up at the stars, and he said something like, “Somehow, whenever I look at the stars, they make my problems seem smaller.” And he was right. When I look at the stars, they make my conception of God bigger, and suddenly my problems shrink to infinitesimal size.

I found a crusty patch of snow, and lay down, in order to take in the full scene. There they were, the stars, not very plentiful because of the brilliant moon, but bright and clear nonetheless. How long they have been there, and how much has happened beneath their distant gaze. How many men have looked at those same stars, to navigate their way to distant lands. How many minds have wondered at their magnitude and beauty, when they aimed their telescopes into the darkest corners space, and found the stars looking back at them.

How many people have lain on their backs, just as I was doing, and read in the stars the witness that God is present in the loneliest places. The apostle John must have beheld them from his exile on the island Patmos. Perhaps he wondered whether the God who had made those stars had forgotten about him—and then there came a day when he saw “one like a Son of man…in His right hand He held seven stars.” (Rev. 1:16)

They are the stars that lightened the ways of patient shepherds resting on the hills of Galilee, until the glory of the Lord blasted the starlight into obsolescence while angels announced the Savior’s birth. Perhaps those very stars were waypoints along the way of the Lord Jesus, descending to this earth to be the sacrifice for the sins of the creatures He had made.

These are the very stars that shone over a Middle Eastern desert, on the night when God took a man named Abram outside his tent, and made him look up. “And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:5-6) And for the next decades, as Abraham travelled through the wilderness, perhaps wondering sometimes whether God had forgotten His promise, he must surely have looked up at these very same stars, and found in their steadfast presence the assurance that God had not changed.

A few short years, and each of these men passed on, yet the stars have remained, silent witnesses to the majesty and faithfulness of God. And tonight I lay in the snow and looked up at those same stars, and thought how each one of them has a name, and is led forth by God through pathless space, with changeless precision. (Is. 40:26) His intellect is so vast that He has perfect knowledge of each of the countless stars—and, indeed, of each snowflake that blew against my face. Then I thought of David, the shepherd boy, looked at these stars and wondered, “What is man, that you take thought of Him?” (Ps. 8:4) He went on to exclaim, “How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God, how vast is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:17,18) Again, in Psalm 40:5, “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.” Kind of like the stars. And if each star should stand for one thought that God has had toward me--?

Suddenly, the idea that God has forgotten about me, or about a single one of my needs or desires, seemed ludicrous. If He has thoughts to spare to name the stars, surely He knows about any one desire of my heart, though it seems sometimes to occupy my whole little mind.

I got up and continued my walk. Like the old time sailors, I had gotten my bearings again. Not from the stars, but from the God Who moves the stars. And the winter night was no longer lonely.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter's Victory

Well, winter has finally won the argument! Softly, silently, and swiftly, he rearranged the stage, one snowflake at a time. I sat by the window during my lunch break at work, and watched the mesmerizing cascade. Hard to believe that such a tiny, frail thing as a snowflake could help to effect such a dramatic transformation!

Autumn had not quite given up. Upon the downy puffs of snow, he sent his raindrops, cold and crude, to crush the intricately sculpted snowflakes. The world began to look sodden and miserable. But winter had not given up. He retreated to the corner and ever so slyly, and while autumn was gloating over the mischief he had done, winter reached behind his back and turned down the thermostat. By morning, the rain had become only a dazzling glaze of ice upon the snow, radiant and glinting and making it more glorious than ever.

Today I ventured out on my cross-country skis. I had to break the trail, and my muscles and coordination were both out of practice, so that by the time I turned toward home, I was tired, though exhilarated. Home seemed so far away, across the fields.

Then, high, in the sky, I saw them. A great V-formation of Canadian geese, heading due south. My heart was filled with awe as they pressed on, undaunted by the smallness of their wings and the vastness of the distance they had yet to go, not discouraged by the icy ponds and snowy fields below them. As I thought of the journey they had already made, it seemed that surely, even as I watched, one of them would become exhausted or give up, and flutter to the ground. But no, they kept on, their wings beating, beating, beating, beating. They called encouragement to one another and occasionally changed formation for the sake of variety, perhaps, and rest. Now the leader changed direction slightly, and one whole wing of the formation altered their course to stream along behind him. Farther and farther they traveled, into the clear sky, until the undulations of their file looked like light ripples on the surface of water. Then, they were gone, still flying, still heading south. And I looked back at the farmhouse lights twinkling away across the fields and figured I had enough energy to get there, after all.

The evening was very silent after they had gone, as though the last vestige of the autumn had flown away with them, and there was nothing more to say. Winter is here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


"I'm too old for changes," said Bilbo, the famous hobbit, "especially unpleasant ones."

It's a strange, changing time of year. Autumn is gone; the trees are bare, the grass is yellowing, and the air doesn't have that crisp fall smell. Winter is not yet here; the days grow relatively warm when the sun is out, and there is no snow. It's that awkward in-between time, like the pause between two movements in a piano sonata, at a piano recital. Half the audience is inclined to clap, because they think it is the end of the piece, and the more knowledgeable half of the audience hopes desperately that nobody claps, because they know that the young pianist is only collecting himself to play the next movement.

Or, it is like the time between conference sessions, when the speaker who has just finished is exiting, and talking with the next speaker in the hallway. Nobody is really in charge, and the audience stirs restlessly until, to their relief, somebody gets up to inform them of the plan for the next hour.

It's a time of year when the world outdoors is changing rapidly. The other evening, a winter wind came slamming across the fields, knocking me off balance and moving everything that wasn't fastened down. I shuddered, and thrilled at the same time, because the austere winter is such a splendid time of year. Tonight, the wind blew again, but warm and gusty. The other morning, I saw ice on the pond. Today, mud gurgled around my boots. The other night, there were snowflakes on the laundry I had hung out. Today, I didn't hang any laundry out, because of splattering rain. Autumn and winter are having it out with each other just beyond our hearing. And until winter takes charge, we have no choice but to accept the changing moods of the weather.

I was thinking about change today. I thought of the childhood friends from whom I never intended to separate--but somehow, they slipped out of my life, or I out of theirs, until we rediscovered each other on Facebook several weeks ago. I think of the people who are in my life now, the everyday people, who give me their smiles and hugs and greetings. It's hard to believe that someday they, too, might drift out of my life--not because of any kind of clashes, but simply through the changing circumstances of life. Their influence on me, and the love they gave me, will always remain, but my relationship with them may change. And I'll admit I kind of want to agree with Bilbo.

And yet, change comes. And it's a good thing, after all. Burdens become lighter when there is promise of change eventually. Relationships with people, and opportunities to enjoy them, become more precious when you know they'll be gone one day. Earthly things--"stuff"--becomes less important because time and change, if not death, will soon snatch it away from us.

So change comes. And just like the passing seasons, each new change brings its own challenges-- and its own delights. And our chiefest delight is the One Who never changes--the One Who created the magic of changing skies, and changing sunsets, and changing seasons.

No photoshop effects, I promise. :) Aren't God's colors amazing?!

"For I am the LORD, I change not." Malachi 3:6

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8