Weather-imposed sabbath: Spirituality in the (snow) storm

Jeff Swensen GETTY IMAGES Snow coats an apple tree in bloom after eight inches of snow pounded high-lying areas April … Continued

Jeff Swensen


Snow coats an apple tree in bloom after eight inches of snow pounded high-lying areas April 23, 2012 in Somerset, Pennsylvania.

What is it about winter storms? They capture our attention for so many reasons, and not simply the pragmatic concerns related to travel, or the annoyance of all that shoveling. Nemo is no exception.

Winter storm Nemo is expected to spread potentially record snow, brutal winds and the special brand of spirituality evoked by big storms — especially before they cause any serious harm, which hopefully Nemo will not. There is nothing to glamorize about whatever suffering may come in the wake of this, or any other storm, and when people are suffering, the only spiritual questions of consequence are how to relieve that suffering and how to find the strength we need to help do so. But aside from that, there is a kind of spirituality of snow which we feel, even if we don’t always label it as such.

We retreat into our homes, watch the skies expectantly, marvel at the overwhelming event and its incredible beauty as a blanket of white envelops us and pretty much everything else. A kind of hush comes over the affected areas, as most people accept that there is little more to be done. It’s a kind of nature-imposed sabbath, and in a world when most people have a hard time shutting down, that can be a marvelous gift.

The spirituality of snow is a spirituality of repose. It offers the opportunity to celebrate simply being, not the doing which fills most of our lives most of the time. It literally creates a blanket which absorbs the noise that fills our ears during less snowy times.

The spirituality of snow is quietly romantic — inviting us to retreat. Of course, one person’s sacred retreat can be another person’s lonely isolation. As with any ethical spirituality, we need to be aware not only of what works for us, but how that same circumstance might not work for others.

As the snow falls, are there elderly or ill neighbors who fear being cut off? Are there those who are simply feeling lonely and to whom we could reach out, promise to call regularly throughout the storm, or even welcome into our own homes? That too is, or should be, part of the spirituality of snow.

As with any sabbath, there are those among us who work especially hard in order to make sure that the rest of us can rest in safety and security. Just as clergy may work hardest on the “day of rest,” the holy workers involved in fighting fires, caring for the sick, enforcing the law and plowing the snow should not be forgotten during this sabbath of snow.

In world where we have more control over nature than our grandparents could even have imagined, there is something truly wonderful about the gift of allowing nature to impose itself on us, especially as the last time this happened in the Northeast it was Hurricane Sandy — hardly a time to enjoy. In fact, one of the gifts of the traditional Jewish Sabbath is that it begins at sundown each and every Friday — waiting for no person, and reminding all that at least once a week, you just need to stop, pretty much no matter what. The other “stuff” of life will still be there tomorrow.

So as Nemo descends, and with proper attention to those in need and those who will not get a break, we should all embrace the spirituality of snow and it’s unique gifts. Stay warm, stay safe and enjoy the storm.

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Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • haveaheart

    “Just as clergy may work hardest on the ‘day of rest’ . . . ”

    You’re kidding, right?

    All the clergy has to do is talk. While everyone else is resting, the women still have to serve meals and clean up.

  • DrJBKennedySr

    “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change!”

  • xexon

    The beauty of such a storm is it makes you isolated like a monk in a cave. Cut off from much of the world, there’s nothing left to do but meditate.

    Reflection is a difficult thing to master. It scares many people because their internal demons come to the surface.

    This is the only place you can slay them.


  • Karen R.

    My first mystical experience was while skating in the night on the canals of Belle Isle in Detroit. Snow was falling and the world welcomed me with enormous spiritual depth as I glided into the silence. Alone in the night with only the trees, the snow and G-d–this was my discovery of reality.

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