"What's freezing fog?" I asked, having just caught the weather report for Galena, Illinois, on The Weather Channel.
After Christmas, David and I took three quiet days away for reading and conversation about our plans for the coming year. Galena is situated in the rolling Mississippi River Valley terrain. On New Year's Eve morning, we checked the weather news since we planned to go out that day.
Now, in all my years of listening to weather reports, I have never heard of a freezing fog. There have been warnings about ice storms and snow flurries and sleet and hail, about tornadoes and torrential rains and thunderclouds--but freezing fog must be a new category in the meteorologists' lexicon.
However, we discovered firsthand the particularities of "freezing fog." If we hadn't been so cozy in our little inn, during these days before the Iowa caucuses, we could have driven into Dubuque and heard Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John Edwards at any one of several venues in this politically strategic city (Dubuque is built on the bluffs above the Mississippi). We opted instead for movies and dinner out.
The drive into Dubuque and the drive back was a plunge into moments of purely heightened aesthetics. Fresh Christmas snow covered the landscape. Grey-white skies hugged the vistas, limiting our long-range visibility and, sure enough, freezing fog covered every twig and bush and branch and tree. The same thin glaze that we had scrapped off our windshield spread itself atop every inch of the outside world--field and fencepost, barn roof and shed. "Exquisite" is a word that barely describes the beauty of our journey. "Breathtaking, heartstopping"--we humans struggle to define these supernal encounters that nature offers to our eyes.
Let me just say that these stunning events are the reason Midwesterners put up with the hazards and inconveniences of winter. Because of these moments of unbearable beauty, we often feel a little put upon when folks from warmer climes exclaim, "How in the world can you take the cold?" We know it is useless to even attempt to explain what it is the sunbirds are really missing.
Numinous moments (times and places filled with a sense of the presence of divinity) cannot be contrived. They cannot be scheduled into our calendar. We cannot anticipate them; sometimes it is even impossible to photograph them. We can only stop and pause before their awe-evoking power. Freezing fog has to be seen to be believed! And when we take the time to notice, all we can do is say to our own hearts, Oh, Behold! Behold, traces of the Holy One are here.
I want to encourage you to stop this year and attend to the moments that present themselves to you. Stop and look and suck the deepest meaning out of these experiences not made with human hands. Make a vow to stop rushing through the days. Richard Rohr writes in his new book, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality:
God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present to themselves. ... Let's state it clearly: One great idea of the biblical revelation is that God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the now, in the concrete incarnations of life.
Something like freezing fog--and the God who creates it all.
In February, twelve of us will go to St. Mary's Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois, for three days of silence. In a sense we are deliberately entering into a spiritual "freezing fog." By this I mean we are making a choice to stop hurrying, to stop rushing, to stop so that the beauties inherent in the moments of our days will have a chance to make themselves known to us.
I am looking forward to being in a place where the daily cycles of prayer are the work of the people who live there. I am looking forward to being slowed down. I am looking forward to being in community with the Sisters who have made a vow to exercise the most loving kind of hospitality. I am looking forward to resting the deepest part of my soul. I am looking forward to having long hours to intercede for this troubled world and a morning and afternoon to pray for all the members of my family. I am excited about having time to carefully consider the season of Lent (which begins February 6).
We have four places left for four more women (yes, we are beginning to plan events for men who want more of a contemplative spiritual experience). Some are flying in to join us (we also have three guest rooms available in our homes for those who need to come a day early and stay a day later). We will be happy to do airport runs.
Last year during Lauds (morning prayers) I watched deer in the woods and in the snow. Do the creatures know when humans have joined together to honor the Word and to turn the gaze of their souls godward? "God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves" (Richard Rohr). We invite you to pay attention to the inner invitation, Come and see.
Last Call for Writer Wannabes
Let me just say that these stunning events are the reason Midwesterners put up with the hazards and inconveniences of winter.
3-Day Retreat of Silence
St. Mary's Monastery