Tuesday, February 08, 2011
A Wintry Mix
I was born in New England - in Fall River, Massachusetts - and went to college (Lesley) and seminary (EDS) in Cambridge, so there are deep ties that go down to my very roots.
My love for New England goes deeper than that, however, beyond romantic notions about the glory of four distinct and unique season of weather and the allure of Old Cape Cod or Lobstah and Clam Chowdah - or even Red Sox Nation.
This morning, as I took my morning walk along Memorial Drive, I found myself in the midst of what is known here as a "wintry mix" and, believe it or not, I suddenly understood what fans the flames of my love for this place.
Now, in England (UK), a wintry mix is used to speak of precipitation that is a mix of snow or icy rain; however, they are quite specific there, in that British way of precision, that with a wintry mix, one does not anticipate an accumulation of snow on the ground.
In New England (USA), a wintry mix generally refers to a mixture of freezing rain, ice pellets, and snow, but it is expected that some accumulation of the stuff - an inch, maybe less - will occur.
Two countries separated by a common language, and all that.
Given that, in this particular neck of the woods - where some schools are still closed because the accumulation of snow on the roof is so great as to threaten collapse, and we presently have banks of snow so high that some cars are still completely covered in the stuff and one takes one's life in one's hand just trying to make a turn from a side street onto a main road - the occasion of a 'wintry mix' has not caused much of any excitement.
Indeed, at this point in the unique Season of Winter, all it has elicited from most people in my neighborhood are weary sighs and quiet, muffled laments of resignation.
People pull on their boots, put on their down jackets or coats, slap on their hats and gloves, wipe off their cars, and get on with their lives.
Indeed, this wintry mix didn't stop me or some of my new-found companions from keeping the disciple of an early morning walk around Memorial Drive. We now nod to each other, perhaps say a few words of greeting - often stating and agreeing to the obvious ("Snow again." "Yup.") - and get on with whatever it is we had planned to do.
That's when it hit me.
This is why really why I love New England.
A 'wintry mix' can feel like the very presence of Evil. It can, at times, appear to be white and fluffy stuff falling from the heavens, but the ice crystals which have attached themselves to the snow stings and burns as it hits your face.
At other times, the snow seems to stop and you find that you have suddenly become drenched with icy rain which finds its way under many layers of clothing to chill the very marrow of your bones.
Before long, it has turned to snow again, catching you off guard with its gentle caress of your nose and cheeks and playfully sticking to your eyelashes.
Still, if you are a New Englander, you move through it, noting the changes in the quality and consistency of the precipitation the way one notes the change in the color of the leaves in Autumn, or the way the sun burns hot on your skin in Summer, or the way the crocus push their bruised purple heads up from the hard, cold ground in Spring, heralding the return of the tulips.
If you don't know this about New England weather, it can be very disconcerting at first. When you've grown up in the stuff, no matter how long you've been away, you not only remember it quickly but understand that it has done something to shape and form you as a human being.
It forces you to consider your membership in - and dependency on - community, especially when your car needs to be pushed out of a rut in the parking place or a neighbor brings you your mail and a container of soup because you haven't been out of your apartment for fear of falling on your icy front steps.
It imparts a spirituality of sorts, an understanding that ultimately, you are not in control. It can make one an "armchair theologian," and "seasonal philosopher," leading one to think very deep thoughts about the nature of God and the purpose of creation and human existence.
One can find oneself reflecting on the writings of Paul Tillich and his notion of God as the 'Ground of Being' which is not existence but essence, and seriously considering Kierkegaard's idea of 'dreaming innocence'.
If one has become Really Cold, one might even consider Barth's notion of 'double predestination' or Bultmann's 'Sitz in Leben', which might lead you to consider warming up to Rahner's mysterious ideas about 'transcendental Christology'.
Okay, okay. Those are my thoughts today because I'm elbow deep in my reading assignments for Patrick Cheng's Christology course.
You 'catch my drift', as it were.
Ideas about God and the spiritual reflections of one's relationship with God are often, themselves, a 'wintry mix' which shapes and forms you as you travel the path of your earthly and spiritual journey. They can be as varied and unique as the four seasons which frame life in New England, but they are all part of the whole.
It's part of why I love New England so.
It's where my roots are, yes, but it is the place which has also given me wings to fly. It's a place which has loved me enough to let me go, and loved me even more to draw me back for this magical time in this magical place.
As I moved through this morning's wintry mix, I found myself checking out the places along my path where the crocus might, in just a few weeks, poke their bruised heads through the snow, heralding the hope of of the coming of Spring.
Oh, and Baseball Season. Here in Red Sox Nation. Where it doesn't really matter whether you win or lose but how you play the game, and the indefatigable motto of realistic optimism is, "This is the year!" which can - always unexpectedly but just as optimistically - turn into "Just wait until next year."
Before I became a Christian, I was a New Englander (and, truth be told a fan of the BoSox). It was years after baptism for my heart to 'strangely warm' to a more mature relationship with Jesus.
Being a New Englander - no matter where I've lived - helps me understand how to be a better Christian.
Did I mention that I love New England?