C.S. Lewis once remarked that the task of a poet is to remind us that water is wet and grass is green. It’s one of the reasons I think God is a poet. Every year or two here in Washington State, he takes a day to remind us that snow is cold and white.
Now, by this time of year, most of you in the Midwest and Northeast have probably forgotten this. You probably have the notion that the main reason God sends snow is as a punishment for your sins or to teach you valuable lessons about endurance. But there you’d be wrong.
How do I know? Because of the Persians, of course. You see, the Persians used to debate every important question twice: once while sober and again when drunk. There is deep wisdom in this, for seeing things depends as much on how you see as on what you are looking at. And people who see snow day in and day out are in tremendous danger of ceasing to see it at all whereas we Washingtonians who seldom see it never fail to be intoxicated by it!
That is why God made Washingtonians: to see things that the rest of the world has stopped looking at out of boredom or familiarity. We can say to Minnesotans, “Look! Snow!” with the awesome authority of children in the morning of the world because we know that snow is not merely “the white stuff” that Midwestern TV weathermen dismissively say it is, but a vast blanket made of diamonds. It is a huge miracle or work of magic, an immense power capable not only of shutting down the grim Babylonian Engine of Commerce that enslaves us all, but of liberating thousands of happy children to a holiday of sledding and merriment.
In Seattle, where I live, we have no snow removal equipment. It’s too expensive to keep up. So when we get a blizzard resulting in three inch drifts, we just close up the city and give ourselves over to jollification for a few days. We look out the window at the beauty of the flakes in the streetlights and feel rapturous. We take long walks in the sheer delicious silence and recite verses about the sweep of easy wind and downy flake, hearing only our frosty breath and the muffled crunch of snow under boot. We sit up late on the couch with hot chocolate and lights low, savoring the stillness and kissing rather a lot. We get up on bright mornings with children who are squealing with delight and eager to be swaddled in winter gear for a good solid day of fort building, snowman bioengineering, good thumping snowball fights, snow angels and sledding.
Snow, you see, is good. Very good. It is one of the things God specifically had in mind when he pronounced Creation good. But we, who have not the stamina to go on rejoicing in goodness for long, need to be reminded of the goodness of things when we’ve been exposed to them for a long time. We stand in mortal peril of thinking common things are merely ordinary, not miraculous.
Not that there’s something special about Washingtonians in this department. Many’s the time a Kansan gasps at the greenness, the mountains, and the glory of the beautiful bays and islands of Puget Sound and we Washingtonians notice with a start that we had forgotten they are beautiful. Indeed, even our perpetual drizzle and dampness is, I am told, a revelation of glory if you happen to be from Bakersfield, California or Yuma, Arizona. Like everybody, we Washingtonians think our climate is ordinary. And like everybody, we’re blind. That’s why we need poets with new eyes to teach us to see. After all, we have it on good authority that heaven and earth are filled with God’s glory.