The fall of a snowflake and the long meandering of our lives.
Have you ever thought about how long it takes a snowflake to fall? You sit in front of the window, just far enough to keep it from fogging, and you watch it meander. Even in a real howler, the boisterous winds are clearly moving the flakes against their will. They will go along with it, but they aren’t liking it.
In December 2001, my hometown welcomed a Christmas surprise that raised the ground level five to seven feet. It was stockings, shoveling, breakfast, shoveling, presents, shoveling, lunch, shoveling. Heavy snow is a true spiritual mentor that snaps the pace of frenetic life and locks your doors and cancels your appointments. Productivity stops and plans are forestalled. The only justifiable pastime is watching it fall.
You can imagine the Israelites standing there in the Sinai Peninsula: a young Jewess rising before dawn to quiet the hungry cries of her child, or an adolescent responding dutifully to the early moans of the cattle. In the glimmers of twilight their daily bread parachuted softly to the ground, little honey-sweet wafers. It must have been beautiful in those early broaches of the morning. A meek flurry approached them, but with no pace, no urgency, no purpose but fate itself.
It is the gentle waiting that is so spell-binding. If the wind is slow enough, you can follow a single snowflake from some 10 or 15 feet above as it wanders aimlessly, carelessly in three dimensions, resisting all impulse and free of pretense, before submerging itself into the fallen accumulation.
For too many of us, prayer is an activity. We think, we feel, we assume that it can be measured and timed just like any other activity. It has an appointment time and it has a deadline. It has an on and an off. It is and then it is not.
True: we need appointments. If we did not have routines, many of us would not pray at all. However, it is necessary to cut out little chunks of time – five minutes, an hour, a whole day – from the calendar, into which time itself may not invade. Even prayer responsibilities must not invade that sacred space. For a few well-fortified moments, you must not pray for your mother, you must not pray for your father, you must not complete the day’s readings. For a few moments, the only demand is the persistent gravitational pull toward the God whose love cannot be calculated as 9.8 meters per square second. But you will take your time.
The answer is 45 minutes. That’s the long trip of a snowflake from its heavenly origins to its predestined rest. It is ten times as long as a raindrop’s hurried flight. Effortless it grazes, and swoops, and stalls. Your captive eyes have caught only a fraction of it at the descent’s closing seconds. But let it be an encouragement, for you have seen its promised end. From one day to the next, in your prayer and in your action, the love of God draws you and until you finally land in his embrace, there is nothing but to stroll life’s allotment at its given pace, savoring and seizing, desiring and yet receiving.