Ashes 2: Divine chill...

There's nothing like a brisk 30 below to wake you up in the morning...

Psalm 147:12-20
12Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

13For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.

14He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.

15He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.

16He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.

17He hurls down hail like crumbs — who can stand before his cold?

18He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

19He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.

20He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!

I've lived in Chicago (including my time in the suburbs) for nearly twelve years now. During that time, the winters have ranged from balmy and bearable to horrendously cold — the kind of cold that cuts through your skin straight into your bones. Sometimes even the short hike from my apartment to the bus stop or the train was simply brutal. Yet here I am twelve years later.

In a region where the seasons change at a normal pace, where the transition from winter to spring is predictable, Lent makes perfect sense. It is a period of waiting in anticipation, longing for death to become life. Yet here in Chicago, one can never predict when spring will come. But it usually don't show up Easter morning. Often we meet the resurrection of Jesus still yearning for the resurrection of warm weather.

"Ellen had said that her mother was afraid of the ocean, that it was too cold and too big. The sky was, too, thought Annemarie. The whole world was: too cold, too big. And too cruel." — Lois Lowry, Number the Stars

On those brutally cold days where have to spend more time outside than in, I've felt smaller, cramped. When the wind bites against you and there's no viable means of shielding yourself, you can't help but tense your muscles and make yourself smaller. Reading the passage from today, I wonder if that's not what it feels like to experience the unfettered presence of God pressing against you, surrounding you. All of a sudden, faced with the sheer brutality of God's bigness, you can't help but feel a little bit smaller.

I personally haven't read much scripture that speaks about snow and cold and winter, so seeing this portion of Psalm 147 this morning, I was caught off guard by the vividness of it. When we try to comprehend the huge-ness of God, we often end up with a headache... at least I do. It can't be done. Yet we still try.

Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff, and the soft overcomes the hard. Yet no one applies this knowledge— Laozi, Lao Tsu: Tao Te Ching

And then the imagery shifts, changes. We go from the harshness of winter to the softness of spring. No longer is God pressing up against us, cramping us and making us shrink. All of a sudden we go from feeling God's stone fist to her sweet embrace and gentle touch. God's ego settles down and she settles in for the long haul, pulling up a chair, kicking off her shoes.

As I write this, a dear friend of mine comes to mind. She's the kind of woman who has a personality that is huge and vibrant and vast, but also soft, sweet, intimate. We've had conversations where, as she speaks, I sense her growing, getting bigger and stronger and more intense... especially when we touch on a topic about which she's passionate. Then there are those moments where the softness of her silence is the only thing I need to calm down, to feel safe. She truly gives the best hugs around, and when her arms wrap around me, I know that I'm wanted, cared for, cherished. We're often told that God shows up in the people around us. It's a beautiful thing when we're able to recognize it.

I don't know where you live, but if you're like me and are ready for spring, hold on. And as difficult as it may be, every time the wind bites and the cold cuts through you, try to find some peace in knowing that after the divine chill comes the holy embrace.

**If you want to follow along with the devotional lectionary I’ll be using for this series, you can find it here via Pittsburgh Theological Seminary**