I love snow days. I love being shuttered indoors because official sounding people over the media tell us “if you can, stay off the roads today.” I love the suspension of business-as-usual: the interruption of plans, the sudden gift of a day without the structures of work attire, office hours, and commuting. I love the memories of snow days from my childhood, of days of tests and lessons and band practices suddenly opening up into tobogganing and pizza with my best friends; I love memories of snow days as an adult and the way that traditions have been created over the years (like Chinese food in our pyjamas). I love the way that people talk about an impending storm for days in advance, and although everyone groans and complains (especially when it happens to be mid-March,) you can hear the excitement rippling through their predictions and musings. I love feeling that added nudge of gratitude for the safety and comfort afforded by insulation, indoor heating, and discovering that, when needed, we have the ability to re-schedule.
There is something deeper going on with snow days, though. It isn’t just about greasy food and fireplaces and spare time. There is something reclaimed on snow days, something that has slipped away from our grasp without our realizing it, and for just an instant when the watches and warnings start to file in from Environment Canada, about which we are reminded. I will religious words to describe what it is that we’ve lost: Sabbath, festival, congregation.
Sabbath is right up there in God’s top ten commandments, along with not stealing or killing. We are to honour God’s pattern of work and rest and to keep one day out of seven as ‘other.’ Jesus provoked a great deal of controversy around the Sabbath, routinely healing chronically ill people on Saturdays and thereby stirring up conversation and teaching around this holy day: he reminded people that the Sabbath was not set up in order that we might better serve God, but rather was given to us by God as a gift for our lives. It is a tired observation that modern people don’t do Sabbath very well, that there is very little these days that distinguishes Saturday or Sunday from any other day of the week, and that something is lost in this. A disordered relationship with the Sabbath, however, is not a purely modern problem. Jesus’ people apparently turned the Sabbath into a sort of exam for testing one’s religious piety and ability to meticulously observe religious law, whereas Christians have, at times, behaved as if God might strike us down if we have too much fun on a Sunday. I imagine this icy blast of winter storm as the goodness God intended in the Sabbath, boiled down, packaged up, gift-wrapped, and hand-delivered from God. I picture God’s knowing smile: stores and activities can occasionally shut down, and it is not the end of fun or the economy; the ancient wisdom was right, and there really is something divine about taking the occasional break.
Sabbath is meant to be part of a regular pattern of life, so on its own, it doesn’t do justice to the joy of snow days. Snow days are special. They are festive. The word “festival” is related to the word “feast.” The Judeo-Christian tradition insists on balance. We are called to prayer, to reflection, to examination of conscience, as well as simplified living and service to others. But we are also expected to party. We are to save up for occasions of extravagant eating, to give great thanks for our blessings, to celebrate and make merry. We might think that “festival” would be the half of this balance that we do very well in our modern age. We have sweets and fatty foods, alcohol, music, and entertainment at our fingertips on a 24-7 basis. Restraint and quiet would seem to be the pieces most often missing from our lives. And yet, that constant and excessive access to fun apparently weighs us down more than it lifts us up. Many find their lives distinctly lacking in joy. I know that Snow Days involve shovelling, and I know that phones and the internet still put us in the direct line of our work commitments. And yet, a disruptive storm can also open up space and time, insist on shoving aside regular routines and dusting off those favourite traditions that can only really fully be enjoyed when there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.
Snow Storms cut us off from the rest of the world and force us to stay at home. But in another sense, they bind us together in a way that nothing else does. I do not lament the multicultural diversity of our North American lives. I don’t long for the days when everyone used to go to church—I think it is much more wonderful to know that everyone is there in worship because they want and choose to be. There was a moment in time when it seemed as if television was replacing church as the means by which community would be gathered and given a common narrative. But it was a false prediction: television couldn’t ever really provide commonality because it is a medium premised on personal preference and choice. Further, the splintering of the media landscape means that while many might tune in to watch the Super Bowl or the Oscars, just as many have their own nuanced options for opting out. There is nothing especially wrong about that, but there is something lovely and simple about being reminded that we have some common ground between us after all. When bad weather is on the horizon, we all know about it, we all talk about it, and we are all affected by it. We get to experience the heart of what it means to be a congregation: gathered. We are gathered not by choice, but by virtue of some external factor. In the life of the church, we are a congregation by virtue of God’s love offered. In the life of being human, we are a congregation by virtue of weather that still can surprise us, humble us and hamper us in.
I write this blog in the middle of the afternoon, in my pyjamas, with a smile permanently fastened on my face, and with the only real plan of the day to figure out whether it is too stormy to duck around the corner and pick up take-out Chinese food or whether I should make something here at home. I pray that you, too, receive the gift of suspended activity and interrupted schedules, and that you are able to join me in giving thanks. I am guessing that we will mostly feel, by day’s end, that normal is good, too, and that tomorrow it will be nice to get dressed and go out, to resume the normal pace of life and work and meetings and social interactions. Our common ground will shift away from storm predictions to hope for melting snow and spring on the horizon.