"A Crown of Beauty"
Rev. Dr. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Eliot Church Natick
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-7, "The Snow-Storm" Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now, there are different schools of thought when it comes to snow removal. There are those who wait for the storm to end and do the whole thing at once. There are the ones who shovel during the storm so as to keep up, and there are those who get the kids to do it. I am an adherent of the last two schools. However, there is something not entirely satisfying about pushing the kids outside then following them out to clear away the snow. This is particularly true when one looks up at the sky and sees more snow more coming down. Later of course, (much later on Merrill Road), I get to curse the town plow as it pushes the road snow back toward our driveway and walk.
Now, I have done a lot of shoveling over the years but usually it is in smaller installments. Today, like many of you, I am not entirely sure I am done...even though my back says I am. There is a lot of tedium and drudgery in a storm and we have experienced it this weekend. But you know, there are things that I already miss about the great blizzard of 2013 (and no, I haven't lost my mind). There are things to miss. Storms are exciting, after all and there is something great about being where the action is.
But what I miss the most...is the silence. Not only does snow itself act as an insulator and sound barrier but the driving ban stopped all that traffic on Friday and Saturday. When you live pressed right up against that part of Union Street that insists on calling itself Pleasant Street, most days the noise of the cars is a constant companion. Usually the cars run all night, too.
But suddenly, thanks to the storm all the sounds of modern life were gone except for the sound of the furnace occasionally...or some electronic device reminding us of its presence.
However, in spite of these obvious technological impediments we could, I think, almost grasp what Emerson was going on about in our reading
The whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm
It is in that sort of silence that we can, if we wish, begin to hear the still small voice of our hopes and our dreams. The yearning of our own souls.
It is in that sort of silence that we reclaim the gift of prophecy. After all, it was in a world without modern noise that Isaiah heard the promise from God of a new name for his people...Of a new name and a new beginning: You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of God...You shall no more be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed desolate.
This is the sort of promise I think we all would like to hear in the silence, or in the midst of the sounds during the storms of our lives. For the Israelites in the reading, of course, theirs was a communal struggle...The challenge of exile, of dislocation, living among strangers in a land not their own. We have communal struggles, too, ones less easily solved than a pile of snow. The weak economy has hit so many people so hard and, in spite of recent successes we struggle with...The continued specters of racism, sexism, and classism...The continued discrimination against the LGBT community...The constant problems of a world and country in a state of continuous war. All of these and more take up our national discourse and to some extent local discourse. They settle in our hearts and minds as they affect individuals in our community, too.
But at the same time, there are storms in our hearts that are harder to express in community...That are harder to speak out loud even to our loved ones and to our friends. These, too, require attention. They require a prophetic voice. You will be called a new name that the mouth of God will give and here in the silence during and after the storm (or at least after), I think, is where we can find some shelter, some peace. The Israelites learned this and the Transcendentalists learned it in a different way.
While the storm separates us, slows us down, it also causes us to see things differently, to hear things differently and, perhaps, see the beauty in something that we couldn't see before. Maybe, even, we can see the beauty in ourselves.
In Emerson's poem he writes about the north wind's masonry; How The snow changes the landscape. It falls over the rocks and trees, the hills and valleys, the stuff that we have left outside and makes them different somehow.
The storm, in his words
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night work,
Even my crappy 12-year-old Saturn Ion gets a new look. It seems somehow more majestic buried in the drifts on the driveway than it ever does lurching down the road. So, too, the storms in our hearts change our landscape for better or worse (Hopefully for the better) and that is something to pray for.
In the end when the storm is over....and we have dug ourselves out....and the power is back on...we will be able to look back and reflect on what we have learned....
To find beauty in desolation
To pause to hear the voice in the silence
To value the hard times
For their hidden joys