Snow and the Gifts of the Lord

January 12, 2011


By Andy Patton

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

It snowed on Christmas in my part of the world, big, slow flakes that blanketed the ground in white and the air in silence. I ducked in and out of it carrying boxes of gifts from the car to the house and every time I came outside again I couldn’t help but stare up at the sky in wonder. The thought that kept running through my head was, “I do not deserve this.”

My home in Missouri is still far enough south that when it snows it feels like something special is happening. I felt like it could not last forever, not because of any laws of meteorology, but because it felt impossible that a gift so lovely would continue for very long. The snow felt like a promise of goodness, the fruits of the earth coming into my hands, falling down around me, sticking on my coat. The feeling I felt that it wouldn’t last was a fear that the giver would stop giving.

Back inside we kept looking out the windows anytime we crossed the living room. You’d catch people walking to the bay windows just to state at the lake behind the house. The squirrels were chasing each other, their black bodies easy to see now against the snow. The lake was an unbroken plane of white discernable form the land only by its contour. Somewhere toward the horizon the land and sky blurred together into an opaque whiteness. Sometimes conversations would lapse entirely and we simply stared at the view. The landscape drew our eyes like a lodestone.

We call something like that beauty, but beauty is only a fief in the kingdom of grace. Grace is a king who cloaks himself and walks the world in a sunset, a tree, a snowfall. The things of this created world are like sieves that catch it and let it trickle through on our heads, our hands, our eyelashes.

There was a difference between the gifts streaming from the sky and the ones we gave each other this Christmas. After the last bit of wrapping paper was opened there was a moment of silence then my grandmother said, “Its over so soon” and everyone nodded. But outside it kept snowing. The gifts God gives  to us through the earth are effervescent.

Lewis Hyde, in “The Gift” a scholarly look at the sociology of gifts, says that there are two economies on the earth: the market economy and the gift economy. The market runs on 1’s and 0’s, profit and loss, buying, selling, and keeping. The materials of the gift economy, however, like God’s manna, cannot be kept. They keep on “falling from the sky” freely and abundantly and must do so. In the market one gains by amassing and hoping one has stored up enough against the day the well runs dry. In the gift economy one gains by giving and grace flows as freely as snow falling from a blank sky on any one of a thousand trees.

God has made a gift economy of the earth. He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. His gifts literally fall from the sky. They accumulate and blanket the land in white. The sun rises and they melt away. They return. We watch the whole show out of our windows with our families and can’t help but stare. It feels like a blessing. It feels like an invitation.

Gratitude is the only fit response.

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