All Things New
Shvissh, THmm … Shvissh, THmm. Our light shovels scooped up the feathery white crystals and stacked them into domed piles. The afternoon light was already tinged blue; in a few hours it would be purple and then quickly it would be black.
Once the piles were finished, we would let the snow settle and freeze together. The friction of being scooped, piled and patted into place was enough to bond the millions of fractured snowflakes together into a solid mass. Then we would begin to dig into the pile, “moling” out a small room with a sleeping platform where 3 or 4 students would spend the night.
The afternoon light had very little power to warm us; as soon as it was gone the weather would be much colder. The forecast predicted -18F/-28C overnight. I paused for a moment to stretch my back and survey the progress of the student quinzhees. I glanced over the frozen landscape and wondered at the power that it possessed– simply by being cold. Winter is a hungry season, insatiable, longing for heat but never able to feed upon enough of it to warm itself. Despite the calories I ate and the expensive gear I wore, if I lay down on the ground I would feel the snow crystals greedily sucking the heat away from my body, then I would become tired and then I would sleep without waking up. The barren landscape around me was, at that moment, the very picture of death, and sin—hungry, destructive and consuming. For a moment I had a vision of my own life and saw the emptiness that sin leaves behind; just as I was helpless to warm up a world blanketed by winter, I was also helpless to undo the power of sin in my life.
I clutched my shovel, and crawled into the quinzhee and took a turn moling it out.
We finished our quinzhees, and had supper by light of our headlamps. Our kitchen was covered with crystallized steam from our food, and everyone shuffled from foot to foot to stay warm. We laughed and talked and worked hard to stay warm, but I felt the cold at my back, pulling at me. Finally, our water bottles were filled with melted snow and our stomachs were filled with backpacker’s lasagna. It was time to crawl into the warm protection of my sleeping bag.
On hands and knees, I crawled into my quinzhee and up onto the sleeping platform. After my careful winter bedtime rituals, I laid down. With my headlamp on, I watched the dance between ice and light on the sparkling ceiling of our quinzhee. My quinzhee-mates with made their way into bed, and we chatted and laughed for awhile. Eventually, the other girls fell asleep. I lay awake, thinking back to high school chemistry class where I learned about what made hot and cold. “Cold isn’t a thing in itself, cold is just the absence of any energy that would warm it,” my teacher’s lesson echoed in my mind. I thought about the way I had anthropomorphized winter, and realized that the cold outside was not a malevolent force, it was the result of a context that lacked the warm energy of the sun. The cold was not a thing in itself; it was the absence of something important.
Earlier in the day, I had seen an association between winter and sin in my life. Although I had turned an innocent season into a monster, the picture in my mind was true—sin and death create hopelessness. The picture, however, was incomplete because it excluded the existence of the sun. Winter gives way to spring and summer because of the sun’s influence. The sun has the power to energize winter’s empty air, and thus melts the snow and feeds life. Sin and death make us helpless, but only outside of the energy of God. Without Christ, my life is held captive in sin, like the bondage of the earth under the snow.
I flicked on my headlamp for a moment. The snow sparkled, as before, and then I noticed something new: I could not see my breath. It was warm enough inside the quinzhee that even though the temperatures outside had fallen well below the zero mark, I could sleep in comfort. The snow, which had seemed menacing earlier, was now piled around me, protecting me.
I saw another picture; this one was of the redeeming power of Christ. In a season that disdains life, the very substance that can freeze a person to death can be redeemed into a protective barrier against the cold. In my life, the sin and pain I feel can lead me to despair and spiritual death, but through the work of Christ, even my worst mistakes and pains can be redeemed, remade, into things that bring life to me and to others. Christ proclaims, “Look! I am making all things new!” I reshaped the snow into shelter; Christ remakes my mistakes to give life rather than death.
One of my quinzhee-mates stirred, and I clicked off my headlamp. My eyes were dazzled by the prismatic walls of the quinzhee, and my heart was full.
Hannah M. Landon
Hannah is married to Dennis and together they direct the Explore Program. Although Hannah read too many naturalistic Jack London stories in highschool English class, her and Dennis make the most of winter by telemark skiing every chance they get.