The winter of my 12th year, my father decided to outfit our family with cross country skis. He was and still is an enthusiastically athletic person, and at the time, neither of his kids showed much athletic interest. I’m sure he was motivated to get us outside and away from the TV.
Out we ventured into the near-arctic winters of the Adirondack foothills and Tug Hill Plateau. For Dad, if 2 miles was good, 12 was better. Nearly every weekend he dragged us into the frosty forests while I rolled about in the snow to trying to learn the art of Nordic skiing.
Cross country skiing is trickier than it looks. Your heels are not attached to the skis and the constant stepping and gliding can make for achy arches. Ankles can turn suddenly on the narrow skis, causing the skier to topple unexpectedly even when standing still. The terrain where we skied was rolling and forested. If I was lucky enough to make it down a steep hill without falling, I was then faced with the entanglement of angling skis so I could climb the next hill without slipping backward into the brush. There were plenty of bushes and trees in the way, some pricklier than others. Once I did fall, getting back up was no small matter. The skis did not pop off easily and I often found myself positioning my legs in ways that twisted them beyond their ordained capabilities so I could find the right angle to get upright. All this was done in a cold blanket of snow while the rest of my family waited with feigned patience.
After repeating this weekend after weekend, I found my 12 year old self becoming distracted.
The breaking point came on one trip while I was on my back in the snow trying to position the long skis and succeeding only in tangling them in several different ways. My family tried both to help and to stifle the laughter. This was too much for my middle-school maturity to take.
From my prone position, I finally raised one ski pole to the sky and with true pre-teen melodrama I wailed, “Just go!”
I didn’t exactly mean ‘leave me here to die’ but definitely something similar. Only after they had all skied away and I had waited several minutes in the chill did I finally disentangle myself, get upright, and glide angrily on.
After that it was my habit to linger behind on the trails, which was a relief to everyone, I’m sure. I could flop about in the ice and snow at my own pace while the others in the family could be rid of my sour attitude.
On one such journey, something happened that changed everything for me. After pulling myself out of the brush, I was leaning against a tree brushing snow out of my knit hat when I heard a huge cracking noise echo across the landscape.
I looked around.
There was nothing but trees and snow and hills in every direction. What I had heard was the sound of an ice-covered tree branch cracking in the quiet forest.
But then, stillness rushed in again.
A vacuum of silence.
A hush that suddenly seemed so loud.
Nothing moving. No one chattering. I had not noticed it before, occupied as I was with my skis and my frustration. So I stood and listened for a very long time.
Not wanting to break the quiet, I softly packed up and glided forward on my skis. Every few minutes I stopped to listen to the silence. Every miniscule thing became remarkable on that blanket of stillness. A soft breeze moving the pine tree tops overhead. A lingering dry leaf scratching across an icy bank. The muted squawk of a blue jay. I stopped to take it all in. When I finally caught up to my family at the trailhead, my mind was quiet, and I was no longer irritable and indignant.
On subsequent trips, I looked forward to letting others ski ahead of me so I could appreciate the beauty and peace all around. I recognized that this remote, wild, and momentarily peaceful place was a gift from God and I began thanking Him for all I saw and heard. For the long-needled pines rising toward a brilliant and icy blue sky. For the postcard-worthy scenes sparkling with ice and frost. The rustle of frozen weeds scattered in a secluded swamp. The gentle and relentless drift of snow, sifting down through the branches and melting on my eyelashes. In the midst of middle school, where confusion reigns, I had this gift that turned my heart toward the Creator and gave me peace.
As the book of Isaiah states, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” It’s not obvious until you slow down. I didn’t even know it until I stumbled upon it and found myself quietly cherishing the Creator of such beauty. That was the gift of adoration.
Now, decades later, in the holiday hustle and bustle I can hardly remember sometimes what it was like to decelerate and drift forward with an uncluttered mind.
There is a narrative of Jesus visiting a household where there are two sisters- Martha and Mary. Luke 10:39 says Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching, while Martha was distracted with much serving. I can picture Mary sitting with the followers of the Lord – completely enraptured by Jesus and His teaching. And I can most definitely picture Martha, slaving about making sure everyone was comfortable, preparing a meal, getting more annoyed at her sister by the minute. I’m sure she would have loved to sit down and enjoy herself in the Lord’s presence, too, but since Mary clearly wasn’t helping her, Martha was left to do all the serving on her own.
When her sense of justice finally couldn’t take anymore and she called her sister out in front of Jesus, He took Mary’s part. “Martha,” He said, “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion…”
Being endowed with a fair amount of distraction, anxiety and care myself (and a substantial spirit of martyrdom when required) I find it hard to understand why Jesus didn’t suggest that He provide spiritual teaching while they all helped with the dishes. I mean, the fatted calf isn’t going to roast itself.
When I try to rationally point this out, it leaves a bit of an awkward silence between myself and God because in all these years, He hasn’t changed His answer:
Sitting at His feet is way better than checking things off the to-do list. And while my head can understand that, I struggle with sitting still.
It’s a busy time of the year, filled with traditions, shopping, events, get-togethers, decorating, baking, and a host of other festive activities. And so many of them are good. For Christians, this is also the time of year when we commemorate the birth of Jesus- the very Son of God, who came into the world to save a dying and lost humanity.
But for me, and I suspect some of you, the celebration of that amazing, wonderful, joyful news gets lost in the multitude of distractions and stress surrounding what our culture calls Christmas. Especially in this season, when we want to maintain an attitude of awe and wonder and appreciation for God’s gift of life through Jesus, instead, don’t we become distracted and frenzied in our attempts to orchestrate all the daily details?
We sing the Christmas carol:
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him! O come let us adore Him! O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
Three times the song implores us to come and adore Christ the Lord. But adore seems like it could be the wrong word for today. Like that hymn that suggests we raise our “ebenezer”, coming to God in “adoration” might require some clarification for 21st century North America.
We’re good at singing worship songs to God. We have no problem respecting Him. Thinking highly of Him, looking up to Him. Being thankful toward Him. Mentally tossing a spiritual high-five in His direction because we’re grateful for the things He’s done for us. The whispered prayers, the momentary despair, the worries, the regrets we feel in our hectic, fast-paced lives. God does hear them all. But somehow, in our American-ized thinking, it becomes all about us- our wants, our feelings, our lives, our stress, our need to have things a certain way.
But ‘adore’ has a different nuance. It means to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; to pay divine honor to; humble worship. Putting down the need to attend to the constant yapping of this world and intentionally centering attention on the Lord and His great attributes.
And it takes a moment.
We might have to stop and linger.
We might have to forget about our momentary despair, worries, regrets, and aggravations for a bit. We might have to “look full in His wonderful face” as the old chorus says. No glances or hasty, ‘yes, I see Him’. It isn’t just about choosing which spiritual team you want to be on and showing up for practice. It becomes about a relationship that is built when no one else is watching. Like all great relationships, it is about time, attitude, what we prize, and our own “want to”. It is about acknowledging His lordship and humbling ourselves. Realizing the greatness and glory of who He is without expecting anything.
Recognizing that we don’t even deserve anything, but here we are basking in His very goodness: That He would send His only Son into a very dark and dangerous world, so that whoever would believe in Him would have everlasting life in His presence. Not only His presence in Heaven.
But He is also present now.
I can go right on scurrying around Him with my list of things to do and things to get and He probably won’t stop me. But I’ll have spent my allotted time on this earth missing the unexpected artistry of the hand of God on this shadowy path.
Copyright December 2021: Sandra Jantzi