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Tuesday August 14th 2018

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The Bloom of Winter

There’s still another reason I moved to the mountains.

Snow.

I love snow. Obsessing over the next snow forecast is one of my chief hobbies during the winter. But snow in the southern Appalachians isn’t too burdensome. To me anyway. You typically get a few inches at a time, it melts, and you await the next go around.

Last night, it snowed. The forecasted one to three inches became nearly five, and flurries were still falling after the sunrise. I roused my wife, we put on our winter hiking gear, and headed out…out and up.

One of the benefits of living above 4,000 feet is that, just after each new snowfall, we usually get to hike to the higher elevations by ourselves—no one without an all-terrain vehicle and some gumption would climb the steep, icy roads to where we already are.

So, this morning it was just the two of us immersed in an untouched winter scene. But then my wife wasn’t feeling too well and turned back early. So soon it was just me, climbing higher and higher, amusing myself with that old Robert Frost poem:

Whose woods these are, I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

But by myself now, these felt like my woods. I alone was privileged to trudge up these deep white drifts, to drink in this cold, solitary bliss.

However ironically, I decided to pull out my smart phone as I so often do on hikes, and started snapping photos of the contoured winter path, the covered trees, a mountain stream, and then…

My phone died.

It made no sense. It had been charging all night so the battery should have been at one-hundred percent. But, for all my attempts to power it back up. Nothing worked.

A coincidence? Possibly. But, the deep regret I felt not being able to share my photos with the masses on social media brought to mind the “revolutionary” thought that perhaps electronic imagery isn’t the only way to validate my experience with others. And maybe my need to validate myself to others has too strong a hold on me.

I’ve been returning to a study of the spiritual disciplines: deliberate physical activities that help us remove the lesser things in life that control us, cling to what’s more real and true, and thereby draw ourselves closer to God. There are disciplines of abstinence: fasting from food or technology, for instance. Disciplines of solitude. Silence. There are also disciplines of engagement: devotional reading or awareness, serving others, worship, celebration.

This involuntary “fast” from my smart phone reminded me that I didn’t need technology to enjoy what was around me. In fact, without the distraction of visually documenting my surroundings, I started to see things I probably would have never discovered through any man-made lens.

I noticed different tracks in the snow that must have come from a deer—a deer who was probably on the path not long before me. At one point, tracks of two in the snow became tracks of one. Perhaps the deer started to run at the sound of my clumsy approach. So…I wasn’t as alone as I imagined.

During one fleeting moment, I noticed the morning sunlight creating an effect amid the snow-adorned trees that I’d probably never see again—it looked almost like the gates of heaven. My eyes pressed downward as I slogged ever upward, I noticed the light creating a vast starfield of sparkles on the whiteness below—as if the heavens were suddenly upside down.

I noticed something about the dormant wildflowers. They were not just grudgingly passive, awaiting the spring. Instead, the cradles that in the warmer months boasted petals of purple, yellow, and red were today filled with white, creating a bloom of winter. It was like standing in a field of virgin cotton.

Going up, I stopped often to catch my breath. And in stopping, I listened. Of course, silence isn’t usually silent. It simply makes you aware of the sounds you were missing. Likewise, snow can muffle sound, but it can also accent certain sounds, making them more holy. The baritone song of the wind. The crackle of branches. The flow of melting ice. What if I’d never stopped and listened?

There’s a gift in each season. But most, like me, tend to appreciate winter’s gift least of all. The world around us is dead. There’s more darkness than light. We mourn the chill. Everything seems like it’s put on hold. We’re stuck. Waiting.

But here was my reminder that, even when life is subdued or minimized, life is still life. The abundance is certainly less. We’re forced to fast from speeding through our days with abandon. We must stop. Listen. Wait. But God still hovers above the void and feeds us with this frozen manna from heaven. He adorns the trees and flowers with his winter bloom, showing us there is a transcendent beauty to be embraced even when the world’s prism seems so empty of spectral color.

So often, I stumble upon revelations of God’s world in spite of myself. I love to hike alone. But this morning I remembered that the biggest reason I love solitude is that it reminds me that I’m never truly alone. And that these aren’t my woods at all.

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in no village though;
He surely sees me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

***************************

About John Michalak

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An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

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