This fall, a neighbour saw me watering my plants after the weather had turned noticeably colder. Roland is his name. He made small talk, “Doing a final watering?” Many of my neighbours were done with their plants, but I wasn’t thinking of it as a final watering. (I don’t give up easily, you know.)
I wanted the summer to keep going even though the temperatures had dipped. My little flowers didn’t know that winter was coming, and as a matter of fact, they looked just fantastic — really big and healthy. The marigolds had a whole bunch of buds, and there were rows and rows of little buds on the geraniums too. I figured that I would just keep watering as long as the flowers were doing their side of the equation. So I told him that I was planning to keep gardening as long as I could. He said, “Well then you’ll have to do something about the weather.”
A few weeks later, we were suddenly in a warm spell, getting summer temperatures instead of autumn ones. I saw Roland again, and I said, “And look at the weather now — you’re welcome!” Of course he knows I was joking around about taking credit for the weather.
Now it’s December 6, and it’s 7 degrees Celsius in my town (43 degrees Fahrenheit — spell checker shows me that I need two ‘h’s in there). Normally, the days in early December reach a high of -4 and a low of -12. When you’re used to that, then +7 feels downright balmy.
I’m really glad for it. The days are so short that it’s nice to be able to go outside and enjoy what daylight there is. I think it’s neat to see the long row of cars parked near the toboggan hills. People drive here to bring their kids sledding.
This year I did pray for a long summer. I asked for unseasonably warm weather stretching far into November. I wanted it for the sake of gardening. And I did enjoy that extra bunch of summer days in September and early October. But then when a heavy snowfall came a few weeks later and decisively buried all my plants, I thought that what had happened in the autumn was the whole gift. That’s what I thought. Then this — it’s lovely. People are talking about it here. People say, this is very strange, but I’ll take it!
Yes, I’ll take it too. As for taking the credit for it, I won’t do that of course. But I will talk about it.
I remember that part in her autobiography where St. Thérèse of Lisieux (spell checker shows me that I need two ‘i’s in there) tells how she was so delighted at the snowfall on the day she received her habit. Snow is what she had ‘childishly’ wished for, but the weather was so mild and spring-like that she gave up her hope for it:
And now my clothing day drew near . . . the Bishop fixed the ceremony for January 10. The time of waiting had been long indeed, but now what a beautiful feast! Nothing was wanting, not even snow. Do you remember my telling you, dear Mother, how fond I am of snow? While I was still quite small, its whiteness entranced me. Why had I such a fancy for snow? Perhaps it was because, being a little winter flower, my eyes first saw the earth clad in its beautiful white mantle. So, on my clothing day, I wished to see it decked, like myself, in spotless white. The weather was so mild that it might have been spring, and I no longer dared hope for snow. The morning of the feast brought no change and I gave up my childish desire, as impossible to be realised.
But then she saw it:
The instant I set foot in the enclosure again my eyes fell on the statue of the Child Jesus smiling on me amid the flowers and lights; then, turning towards the quadrangle, I saw that, in spite of the mildness of the weather, it was covered with snow. What a delicate attention on the part of Jesus! Gratifying the least wish of His little Spouse, He even sent her this. Where is the creature so mighty that he can make one flake of it fall to please his beloved? Everyone was amazed, and since then many people, hearing of my desire, have described this event as “the little miracle” of my clothing day, and thought it strange I should be so fond of snow. So much the better, it shows still more the wonderful condescension of the Spouse of Virgins—of Him Who loves lilies white as the snow.
God knew how she loved snow, and she joyfully accepted it as a gift for that day. Do you see it that way, or do you sort of dismiss it as her well-meaning mistake or delusion? After all, her claim that God did it especially for her and her special day is a bold claim, isn’t it? It’s bold because weather events affect a lot of people at once, and we don’t think that God would change the weather over a large area in order to please one person, right? Even if we believe in God, our minds have difficulty with that. We feel like there’s an inefficiency there, like weather is a phenomenon that is too big to be directed at just one person.
Of course the first step is to believe that God can and does control the weather. But even if that is true, would God would really do things that are so ‘big’ for the sake of so few? St. Thérèse has been declared a Doctor of the Church, so it’s worth paying attention to what she claims. She says God does this kind of thing (she says elsewhere that the weather has so often matched her mood). It’s true. God does do this kind of thing, but it’s important to note that he doesn’t neglect anyone else while doing so.
The key thing to appreciate and believe is that God’s power is so great that he is always simultaneously doing everything for everyone. This means that if he sends snow for St. Thérèse of Lisieux in order to show his love and thoughtfulness, she will appreciate it for what it is, and meanwhile, the snow will do what it is meant to do for the lives of everyone else who experiences it. For some people, it will serve as a pleasant surprise, something which breaks the monotony or predictability of the day and season. Some will enjoy the snow for its beauty, and some will enjoy it for the memories and associations. For others, it is more; those who found out how she loved snow felt the significance of it along with St. Thérèse. These are all examples of God benefiting people in different ways, even though they didn’t attend the ceremony.
But what about the people who don’t want to see the snow? Did God just forget about all of them in his eagerness to please seventeen year old St. Thérèse? After all, some people dislike seeing snow. In Canada, many people groan when the snow falls because they know it means slippery roads and shoveling. So how do we understand what God is doing in the lives of people who wouldn’t have been happy to see the snowfall? (Let’s say that there were some.) Here we enter into something more complicated. These hardships or inconveniences are types of suffering. And suffering never goes to waste. Surely you see how almost all of the fitness people encourage you to endure all kinds of things for the sake of having a better body? It’s actually the same way with spiritual things. Suffering will have its rewards. To continue with a fitness analogy, suffering will either burn away your excess fat, which is like paying for the wrong you’ve done — the sins you’ve committed against other people and God, or suffering will increase your muscle tone, which is like gaining merit in heaven (and often on earth too). Nevertheless, as I have said in previous posts, you don’t need to seek out suffering. It is natural and good to take legitimate steps to avoid it when you can, in the way that St. Paul pleaded his Roman citizenship to escape death. Suffering will find you eventually, after all.
To summarize, God is always looking out for everyone, even when it doesn’t look like it. His power is such that he can move everyone to the next stage of their story one occurrence or coincidence at a time. Yet because we are only mortal, we cannot grasp the entirety of what he is doing even in our own lives (let alone everyone else’s life). We don’t know the future, and we don’t know exactly how and when good will be rewarded and how evil will be punished. For this reason, trust and faith are always asked of us.
He wants us to say Amen to the mystery of it all.
Anyways, now it’s almost 3, and the sun is getting pretty low in the sky. I look out my west-facing window and I can see it just above a neighbour’s roof. Today is Sunday, the second week of Advent. Oh, it’s also the feast day of St. Nicholas. Ah, that’s funny! I made arrangements to do an errand today, and it’s to drop off a costume to someone named Nicolas. Nicolas will be both Angel Gabriel and Magi Gaspar. It’s that time of year, and some things are worth doing, no matter what. (I don’t give up easily, you know.)