Snow as a Holy Relic

There’s one defiant patch of snow left in my front yard. It obviously missed the memo. Temperatures are expected to reach the 70’s today in central Louisiana. During February. And no one around here is surprised.

Last week’s snowfall, on the other hand, was a surprise. It’s something we see maybe once every 4 or 5 years. But when we see it, when we see those magical little white crystals floating down from heaven, we absolutely lose our minds with joy.

We roll around in the snow. We throw the snow. We eat the snow. We marvel — with genuine astonishment — at how cold the snow is. Our winter wonderland photos overload the servers on Facebook and Instagram.

Since most of us don’t own sleds, we creatively engineer alternatives: trash can lids, cookie sheets, kiddie pools, the inner tube from an old tractor tire. We attempt to build snowmen, even when the fresh powder won’t stick. That doesn’t matter to us. We’ll still bring pitchers of water from the tap and mix it with snow until we have a glorious foot-tall Parson Brown prone to disintegrate in a slight breeze.

We find excitement in doing ordinary activities just to see if they’re any different in the snow. Riding bikes. Playing basketball. Checking the mail. Can you believe it!? I just checked the mail… IN THE SNOW!

But we don’t spell it snow. Nope. It’s sneaux. I’ve lived in Louisiana long enough to know that any word ending in a long o sound is eligible for the eaux upgrade.

And our sneaux adventure was otherworldly. It made calloused grownup hearts rediscover childhood. It fostered community between awestruck neighbors. It gave all of us a common experience of delight in the purest form.

Then a funny thing happened. It snowed again five days later. And I wasn’t nearly as excited. The magic became more of a meteorological nuisance. One day of no school turned into a full week of cabin fever. Work piled up like the slushy mess on city streets. Appointments had to be rescheduled. Tired, soggy clothes blocked the entryway of my house. Even my children yawned at the white blanket outside.

Maybe this is just what we do as human creatures. We adjust to our surroundings. We acclimate, even to our wildest wonder.

Every major religious tradition emphasizes the need for paying attention to the wonder around us. Some call it mindfulness or attentiveness; others call it practicing the presence of God. The idea is essentially the same. My friend Lyndon says, “Anything and everything in our daily life has the potential to wake us up. With mindfulness we begin to bring our full attention and presence to whatever it is we are doing in any given moment, whether walking, eating, or just breathing.” (You can find more of Lyndon’s thoughts on the topic here.)

Honestly, I don’t know anyone who lives mindfully all the time. At best, we have moments of this. We have moments where the Kingdom of God is right under our noses, and we catch a glimpse of it like never before. But when the moment is gone, not much is left except the faint memory of an Eden we knew from the inside.

I suppose that’s why we guard our relics so fiercely. Letters of young love. A pocket watch handed down from generations past. The coat that will never again rest on the shoulders of one who wore it so well. These tokens give us access to experiences that once meant so much to us – not access like a gate swung open wide. It’s something much slimmer, like a keyhole to sacred presence.

That must be why I catch myself whispering little encouraging words to the patch of snow so stubbornly poised in my yard. Be strong. Be defiant. Barricade yourself against the warmth. And by all means, stay as long as you like.

It probably won’t make much difference. But I try. I try to guard the magic. And when the last of the snow surrenders, I’ll still be trying. Trying to live that much closer to wonder. Trying to keep awake in the midst of such life. Trying to enjoy the mystery that is ever closer than we know. I mean, kneaux.