Do you look for God or the devil in the details? (Do you even pay attention?)
I found myself asking this question the other day, when our roller coaster weather dipped from sun and the high 70s to 8 inches of snow and 19 degrees. We needed the snow. Good, ground-soaking snow that could soak in through the fine desert clay hard-pan into the ground instead of running off into the streets.
Officially, it was the third snowiest storm on record. The wind drove it in overnight, slamming snow against the windows and wrapping around the house to pile drifts up to fifteen inches or so in some places, scouring the ground bare in a few others, until the sheer volume of the white stuff won out.
It was still snowing in the morning, alternating between smaller flakes plastered into my face and big, fluffy flakes drifting down between gusts. The dog wasn’t too thrilled to be out, but that may have had more to do with me forcing the jacket on her than the weather itself. When she went out later without it, after the sun came out, she had no problem.
No, I was the problem. I was feeling rather melancholy. Starting the night before, as the house creaked and rattled with the onslaught, I found myself reciting lines from the old poem by John Whitaker Watson (The complete poem is available from Bartleby.com here):
As the snow covered the dried weeds, dusty ground and blown-in trash with its pristine white, it seemed to promise all sorts of good things. Yet I knew that, as soon as it melted, all the stuff currently hidden would be revealed again. First there’d be a coat of mud, but that would change to the ever-present west Texas dust on weeds, trash, and the streets. Whitaker’s poem also takes a downward turn, his snow becoming a shroud.
But the surprise came the next morning.
The clouds were mostly gone, and the thermometer had dipped to 19 degrees. I had forgotten to leave the door to the master bathroom open, so the tiny room was chilly, and the old single-pane window had a surprise for me. Frost!
I was transfixed by delicate crystals fanning the inside of the glass. I hadn’t seen a display like this since I was eight years old! Even as I marveled over the delicate fan shapes, the sun started up and morphed the view into stained glass. I grabbed some photos and then went hunting for more.
The inside of the kitchen storm door had a much different pattern. With less humidity and more cold, just enough moisture had collected from my husband going outside to create a fairy garden reminiscent of bachelor buttons with feathery heads and stems.
My heart lightened, and I knew it for what it was: Joy, and Wonder, and Awe.
Getting bogged down with life is easy for me. I’m one who finds it easier to think half-empty than half-full; to let the anxiety that comes with “what if” take over. It amazes and scares me that I identified with Whitaker’s melancholy so well at age thirteen. And there’s a lot of turmoil right now to feed those dynamics.
But Grace sneaks in past my defensive walls and shatters them from the inside with unexpected beauty. It may be a kind word, a smile, a wonderful smell, a lovely song, or — as in this case — an ephemeral mural of ice crystals in fractal patterns. Beauty for beauty’s sake. And I was blessed to enjoy it before it was gone.
The temptation to look for God in the big things is strong. Politics and history are rife with interpretations of what God is/isn’t doing in a country or culture, let alone the ideas of competing deities. But as I’ve grown older, I find more evidence of the Creator in the little things. Sometimes I have a photograph to remember the encounter. Often it’s simply an experience to be enjoyed in the moment.
Contracts, with their fine print and difficult language are for the devil. Those fleeting, astonishing moments of beauty and wonder are the domain of the spiritual, of God, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Life Source, whatever Name you choose.
Like the pansies my mom’s cat would sniff, they are there for everyone and everything. They remind each of us — regardless of the path we trod — that there is good in this world. Beauty, light, and joy are there to be experienced in the moment, remembered when all seems dark. There — in the details — are miniature cups of grace for the savoring.