Right, so I know I said we were going to work with the elements of the wilderness but the Blogging Spirit says pairs. So we’re going pairs.
It snowed this morning here in the Wicket Gate; this is remarkable because this is the American South and it doesn’t really snow all that often here. It was warm even before global warming.
This is also remarkable because I absolutely love snow. I love it. I love the way it slows everything down, I love the slight weight of it as it falls, I love the silence it engenders, I love the chill of it and the sting the air bites into your cheeks, I love the way snow outlines everything and makes every single twig and parapet a white exclamation point against dark tree bark and grey shingles. I love the snow. And it has affected me more than I realized that it doesn’t really snow here—I apparently count on winter as a breathing respite far more than I knew and I think the lack of it has contributed a lot to how overwhelmed and de-centered I’ve felt. So the snow today was a precious gift and I literally skipped through it across one of the major roads singing My Favorite Things to myself because it was beautiful and there were so few cars it was laughable and running errands in that kind of silence was so, so wonderful.
Light in the darkness.
After getting ink (a necessary though expensive reality, especially now that printers have been programmed not to recognize the cheaper off-brand cartridges) I took myself out to brunch for a sandwich at one of the local fast-food places. The life of the student is a glamorous flirtation with the poverty line, something I point out not to get into an appeal for money or onto my soapbox on the stupidity that we as a society feel students somehow “deserve” to be poor but to underscore that breakfast out isn’t something I do every day. As I was sitting down at the restaurant, a man came up to me and asked if I had a dollar to spare so he could get breakfast. It’s unusual, even here in the city, for someone to come into a place to ask like that; there’s kind of an unspoken agreement that begging as a transaction remains outside, but like I said, it was snowing. Hunger can prompt some incredible things that we would never have thought ourselves capable of, and hunger with cold demands to be fixed. Mindful of having recently preached a sermon on Jesus’ differentiation between the hunger of the body and of the spirit, I said come on, I’ll buy you a value meal breakfast, I can do that much. I intended to have him eat with me since I think that giving money without even the attempt to build connection isn’t helpful to anybody.
We went up to the counter and I gestured him ahead, determined not to speak for him, trying desperately to figure out how this would work since I’m bad at small talk and I really just wanted to watch the snow. He ordered some eight or nine things, still not an exorbitant cost because it’s a cheap place but way over what I was prepared to spend, especially after having spent so much on the ink. I didn’t know what to do; I had not expected him to take liberty of my offer, which is perhaps woefully naive. A manager passing by stopped and said no, he was just in here with someone else; apparently this man had been working the system all morning, waiting for new customers to cycle in and then getting them to buy him more things. She asked if I still wanted to continue with the transaction and I said no, I couldn’t afford what he was asking, cancel it out. He asked me when he was going to get his food and I said I can’t give you what you want, I can do this and nothing more. He looked at me disbelievingly and left.
Darkness in the light.
I tell you this not to say that all beggars are crooks (they certainly aren’t) nor that I’m a saint for having tried (goodness, no). I wish I could tell you how to respond to those who ask for alms, I really do; I feel like, especially as a pastor, I’m supposed to have some kind of answer for how to react, when to give money and when not, what to say. I don’t know any of that. I’m awful and uncomfortable and conflicted as all get-out when it comes to these kinds of interactions. I tell you this because it is so incredible to me to have it juxtaposed against the beautiful snow, the crisp clarity of the flakes nearly lost in the murky confusion of how to look another human being in the eye and say I cannot give you what you want.
Darkness, and light.
When Jesus looks Satan in the eye and says I will not give you what you want after He is starving in the wilderness, after His face has become chapped not from the cold but from the sun that burns and the wind that scratches sand across the skin, does He hesitate? Does He wish there was a manual of how to interact with this, how to look at the darkness and still be the light? Or is He the manual, sure-footed and strong even in His exhaustion, knowing that the light will always win out? Here in the wilderness I wonder, aware that God is in the snow and the stranger and wishing I understood what She wants of me in either situation.
In him there was life. That life was light for the people of the world. The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light. (John 1:4-5, ICB)