The Settling of Snow

By

I am unsettled today. Between the pauses in snowfall, briskly three-dimensional and aloof, I sense a strange lag inside my own skin. Just now, I feel foreign to my space in the world. I am weary of winter and the gray concoctions that inhabit seemingly every second. I find myself longing for more than just the temporal warmth and spring and rebirth of earth and its mavens. The snow is blowing parallel to the ground, north to south, and is as dense as I’ve ever seen in these southern United States. The only green color within my vantage point is the small cluster of longleaf pines across the avenue, now hosting small pockets of cold.

I find myself longing for more than these slow, sublime, occasionally frustrating days I lead, longing toward peace and rest, longing away from here and now, away from encumbered toil and aimless labors. Just outside the coffee shop window, a man is digging at the ground, shoveling away mud and dirt from a trench. The paved concrete has been ripped away, surely the result of a busted water pipe, revealing long-hidden and compacted soil and a slow trickle of water. All the while snow floats about, coating the worker and his tools in a baptism of sorts. The pines collect it in their tendrils. It stockpiles atop cars. The earth tends to take such reckless actions. The world is, after all, subject to heaven from whence originates its own christening. Occasionally, I take notice of such occurrences of blessing being bestowed upon the most unlikely subjects. To see it inside a religious sanctuary is one thing altogether expected, but to witness it on the urban concrete of the city is quite another, rather unexpected and most welcome. Sun shimmering through the parted clouds, humanity wheeling and whirling about, the wet painting of falling snow and rain: all the Good and Remembering grace.

I would wish to be settled, to be at peace with this skin I am given, to pause and recognize that my being foreign to this world is not necessarily all that terrible a thing. For however long I yearn for tomorrow, however deeply I long for rebirth, however fearful or comfortable I am with myself is, in some small measure, an entrenched and guttural hope that God continues to prepare a place at his festival table for the slow and peculiar creatures we are, and the blessings we both unknowingly bestow and undeservedly receive amid all our faith and lack thereof.

Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.


21 Comments

  1. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Eric,

    A good friend of mine once remarked, “February is the longest month of the year.” Add a day on leap year and it is downright interminable!

    As a pastor, I have the honor of setting apart the communion table as often as we partake of it. And one of the things I’ve taken to saying as we prepare to come a receive the bread and cup is that this is a table that will only be ours for a while. It will reach the end of its purpose– and there will come a day when we’ll never come to take communion again. So every time we come, it is to a table set for us for now, but not forever.

    It will be replaced by another table… another meal.

    And at that table, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where we are there as His Bride and He as our Groom, we will be home.

    I’m not settled either. But this, I believe you’re right, is as it should be.

  2. lyndsay

    wow. thanks so much for your words. somehow it’s encouraging to know i’m not alone. maybe it is the month of february (“can we live through february?” (dar williams)), but i feel, too, that God is bringing me to a place where i’m realizing more and more that i’m not built for this world, that my true home is elsewhere, and i will only be at ease there.

    “there is more than all this pain, more than all the falling down and the getting up again…” (ap)

  3. Peter B

    What lyndsay said.

    Seriously, this seems to be the nadir in my recent period of doubt. I don’t quite understand it, since here in Dallas the sun is shining brightly… but it’s just so hard to *believe* lately. Then again, everything feels disconnected; the demands of young children and everything else tend to put us into zombie mode.

    The encouragement of brothers like you (and those not so far removed) makes a big difference.

  4. Chris Slaten

    Your reflection is very encouraging to me because you helped to turn my gaze, weary of being in between the old age and the consummation of the new, to the blessings and divine presence which fall continually on us, renewing us, which I rarely notice. Lyndsay and I have both really needed to have our gazes redirected that way these past few weeks.

    The endless labor of these grey months:
    (A little more from the Dar song Lyndsay quoted)
    “And then the snow,
    And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
    And we’d drop to sleep exhausted,
    Then we’d wake up, and its snowing.”

    Snow is beautiful:
    “If I go out in the morning snow
    In my pajamas and my winter coat
    And take from the house our darker thoughts
    And take away the memory of loss
    And if I drop them into the snow
    Will we never find them anymore?
    ….Now the snow has covered everything.
    I think we will be made clean like the snow
    I think we will become new like the snow”
    -Snow, Innocence Mission

    While it feels that Chattanooga could use some more snow laterly, maybe we just aren’t looking with eyes of faith.

  5. Chris R

    Made me think of Hebrews 11… “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth…. Instead they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

  6. Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    thanks for the good comments, folks. joshua, to be uttered in the same breath as flannery o’connor i consider an honor. are you familiar with annie dillard and kathleen norris’ writings? mrs. norris’ “Dakota” is wonderfully descriptive.

  7. Chris Slaten

    That’s crazy because I was thinking that this was a very Annie Dillard-like meditation. I should have assumed you’d be familiar with her.

    Speaking of Flannery O’Conner I’ve been waiting for one of you discussion leaders to bring her up. Same for Walker Percy.

  8. Joshua Keel

    Eric, I’m not familiar with those writers. Any particular recommendations? I’m always looking for great new stuff to read.

    Chris, I’ll have to check out Walker Percy as well. Is there anything I positively must read? BTW, thumbs up for mentions of O’Connor. 😉

  9. Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    joshua et al, kathleen norris’ “dakota” is a personal favorite. i’ve been trying to get AP to read it for some time now, but he seems to be off in la-la land writing books about fearsome cows & other anomalies.

    i also really like “the cloister walk” by mrs. norris. that particular book granted me a song (“save something for grace”). if you’re going to read annie dillard, you must start with either “pilgrim at tinker creek” or “teaching a stone to talk”. both are wonderful.

    the only thing i’ve read by walker percy is “the moviegoer”. i didn’t understand it. either that or i wasn’t in the right frame of mind. any other recommendations?

  10. Chris Slaten

    Walker Percy ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walker_Percy ) was a Catholic a southern fiction writer during Flannery’s time and though the two never really corresponded that often, their personal writings indicate that they were inspired by each others writings. However, their styles and approaches are very different.
    The Moviegoer is Percy’s most famous work and might be considered by some the one that you must read, but it was not my favorite:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moviegoer

    The Second Coming is my favorite so far (I think it was the last novel he wrote before he died. Paul Elie in The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An America Pilgrimage insinuated that this novel may have been written in response to a cryptic note that Flannery O’Conner had slipped to Walker Percy after one of his lectures decades earlier, before she had died young) Though it is a sequel to The Last Gentleman, it can stand alone. Essentially it is about a guy who intentionally abandons his country club life in North Carolina, crawls into the side of a mountain and follows it down to a cave thousands of feet below in order to ask God a yes or no question. Also, he has a problem where he blacks out on golf courses and is filled with memories from his past. The book also follows the story of a girl who has been through extensive electroshock therapy due to some several behavioral health problems, but now because of her treatment she has to relearn how to talk and think. He has a memory he can’t escape and she has no memory at all. It is all beautifully written, incredibly and about the closest thing to a page turner that he wrote. And no I haven’t spoiled anything; all of the above info is probably on the back of the book. I will warn you though that some Christians are offended by how crude his novels can be on occasion. When I was looking at going to Wheaton for my undergrad I remember seeing that they were offering a whole class just on his work, which I was amazed by because at my high school we read Lancelot (a book about a guy in New Orleans who goes on a quest for evil in reaction to a culture that says that evil is relative or no longer exists) and there was a big controversy because of some very explicit scenes in the book.

    Eric, I apologize for the tangent but I thought you might be interested too in case you hadn’t read that book and are a Flannery O’Conner fan. Fredrick Beuchner has expressed a lot of respect for Percy too, though he has indicated that he thinks that Percy sometimes speaks a little more than his characters do.

  11. Chris Slaten

    Yeah, saying that the Moviegoer was not my favorite was kind of an understatement. I was actually kind of bored by it and it has always confused me that it was his most critically acclaimed. The Second Coming and Lancelot are much more interesting and I think the writing is better in both, all around. I definitely learned a lot more from them.

  12. Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    chris, i’m glad to read that “The Moviegoer” bored you as well. that makes me feel less dumb. i will certainly check out “The Second Coming”. i’ve been wanting to give mr. percy a second chance as a result of my aforementioned boredom with Moviegoer. i’ve heard percy’s name mentioned by too many other authors whose writing i respect. thanks for the recommendation.

    p.s. it takes a good bit to offend me, especially in the literary realm. but we all certainly appreciate the warning.

  13. Joshua Keel

    Eric and Chris, thanks for the recommendations. I’ll offer a couple of humble suggestions most here have probably already read, but just in case, here goes:

    George MacDonald
    – Lilith (great fantasy in MacDonald’s unique style)
    – The Princess and Curdie (fabulous “children’s book”)
    – The Portent (short, sweet, not mind-blowing)

    C. S. Lewis
    – Till We Have Faces (my favorite fiction, ever)

    Madeleine L’Engle
    – The Other Side of the Sun (adult novel about a Southern family, amazing)

    G. K. Chesterton
    – All the Father Brown mysteries
    – The Man Who Was Thursday

    And the outcast in my group:

    Fyodor Dostoevsky
    – The Brothers Karamazov

    I hope I haven’t totally bored anyone with this list. In the past couple years, through blogs and musicians I like, I’ve discovered an amazing amount of great new music and literature. I’m actually kind new to most of these writers, but I find them all amazing and inspiring. They’re all had a great impact on my thinking, music and writing. I also haven’t included all the works I love by these writers, just the ones I like best or think are most representative of their work.

    Thank you all so much for introducing me to great writers. It’s wonderful to discover something new and life-changing.

  14. Chris Slaten

    Joshua, I love all of those authors! The works that I haven’t read that I’ll need to check out are Till we have faces, which I have been wanting to read for a long time and George Macdonald’s works of fiction. I’ve actually read some of his sermons/essays and my friends in high school used to chide me because I kept Diary of an Old Soul next to my bedside and read it daily (The called me an old man). I started Phantastes but haven’t finished. I’ve only read pieces of the Father Brown series but Orthodoxy and The Man Who was Thursday are two of my favorites. As for L’Engle I’ve only read Walking on Water and I read A Wrinkle in Time about three times in elementary school. I don’t think there is anything adequate I could say about The Brother’s Karamazov.

    Ditto to what you said about learning about new authors. All of the ones mentioned so far for me have been pretty formative in my outlook on life. I’m particularly in great debt to Dillard, Beuchner and L’engle for teaching me to see, to some small extent, as they do; particularly for helping me to see the divine in the ordinary. I guess I am more in debt really to the Holy Spirit for using them in this way.

  15. Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    “Brothers Karamazov” took me a year to read. ’nuff said.

    i have been on a long, and thus far fruitless, hunt for the Father Brown mysteries collection. i’ve only read “The Man Who Was Thursday”. ’twas very enjoyable. i am also on the hunt for anything by MacDonald. L’Engle’s “Walking on Water” is on my to-read-soon list. too many artists have recommended it. also, i really enjoyed her book, “A Stone For a Pillow” (1 part of a Genesis trilogy she wrote). i found the other 2 but i haven’t gotten to them yet. in the words of Michael Card, “so many books, so little time.”

  16. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Joshua,

    I’m so glad to see that great list of books and authors, but especially Till We Have Faces. It’s an amazing piece of fiction, and like I said in the store product description, it put me in awe of Lewis not just as a storyteller or a theologian, but as a formidable writer.

    I’m sad that more people haven’t read it. Would you be willing to write a few paragraphs about why you love it? Not necessarily a play-by-play book review, but a thoughtful argument for why you think folks should read it. If you can email it to me and it seems like it’ll fit here in the Rabbit Room I’ll post it as a recommendation.

    Chris, we have a couple of used copies in the RR store, you know…

    AP

  17. Abigail

    i’ve been enjoying the rabbit room and the various thoughts and ideas. good for the soul.

    eric, you said you have been looking for the father brown mysteries by g.k. chesterton. i know that books are much better than computer copies, but if you visit gutenberg, or this link http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/204 you can download some (or all?) of the father brown mysteries there. as well as a number of other enjoyable books. just a thought.

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