Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Tuesday, January 9 2021
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
And one seraph called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3
Emerging from the Pleistocene, John Tallmadge
In winter, we can often look across the landscape of snow, and forget anything but the last snowfall. Nothing else remains of the world. The blizzard covers it all. Everything is bright white, encrusted in a powered blanket that drifts and packs, collecting on bushes and bramble. But that crystalline blank slate offers us a way of remembering what has gone before: not just a generation past, or a century or a millennium, but an eon ago, back before there were historians to keep time.
In his book The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City, Ohio nature writer John Tallmadge traces that ancient history:
“Especially on winter days under damp, snow-laden skies, I like to imagine my neighborhood emerging from the Pleistocene. After ages of dark and grinding cold, an endless rain washes away the ice, leaving heaps of mud and gravel looping in chill fog. Great, lumbering beasts move in from the south as mats of dryas, fireweed, and reindeer moss spread over stony ground. Spruce, aspen, willow and white pine migrate west and north from their refuges in the Virginia mountains. Huge mastodons and ground sloths browse on saplings. Dire wolves roam the hillsides. Gray streams churn southward from the ice, cutting new valleys to feed the Ohio…The climate warms; the people change, leave, return. They come with new plants, put in gardens, erect strange earthen monuments shaped like snakes intent on swallowing the sun. The forest changes; the spruce and pine head north, following the spoor of ancient ice. Deciduous trees move in: American elm, pin oak, box elder, silver maple… pine trees laced with snow, rooted in glacial mud.”
There can be a pivotal encounter of God within this kind of deliberate meditation on the depths of the earth’s past. It puts me in contact with the sacred creatures that go before me, connects me to the ancient sacred history that only the divine can truly access, and gives architecture to my theological understanding of how beyond-time our God is. We are but one note, one measure, one rhythm in the measured cadence of the earth’s timeworn song, and yet God’s tenderness extends to us in the most intimate of ways, as the Gospel of Luke says, “But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (12:7).
O God of deep winter, blankets of snow, sleet and freezing rain, connect us to our most ancient past, and open us to the intimacy of your presence in this present monument. Amen.