For my thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord,
neither are my ways, your ways ;
But as the heavens are high above the earth
so are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.
As the rain comes down and the snow from heaven
and do not return there without watering the earth
making it produce grain
to give seed for sowing and bread to eat,
so it is with my word issuing from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty
without accomplishing my purpose
And succeeding in the task for which I sent it.
Isaiah chapter 55
I woke up this morning to find an inch or two of snow in the garden and the street, the first fall this winter. Later, driving the winding country lanes of my rural parishes, I could see deeper drifts against the stone walls of the fields, where sizeable flocks of starlings, crows and pigeons had already gathered to seek food under the covering of snow. There is a beauty in the scene as long as you are not wading through the white stuff to feed animals, or clearing drifts so that your truck can exit your farm.
I don’t suppose the author of Isaiah chapter 55, great poet as he/she was, had as much experience of snow as myself, but he may have taken the time to look carefully at the crystals that, in Palestine, fall rarely from the sky.
Strictly we should speak about snow crystals rather than flakes, which is a more general term. Snow crystals are hexagonal, often though not always showing the classic intricate, symmetrical lattice that most people recognise.
The crystal begins as a simple hexagon cube, a three dimensional structure which then grows spikes at its six vertices, the amount of growth beeing dependent on its precise journey through the clouds. It is not frozen rain but frozen water vapour which skips the liquid state as it freezes. It is therefore impossible to predict the final shape of a snow crystal as so many variables, temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, concentration of cloud and so on, affect it. Some crystals are the flat shape we all recognise, others are long, slender tubes.
A Japanese scientist has made a diagram setting out the more important variables and the kind of snow crystals which they produce. The classic snowflake shape is only produced when temperatures are around -15C. Obviously the geometry of the snow crystal itself a constant in the midst of these variables as it is invariably hexagonal. This is in turn is due to the hexagonal pattern of water molecules in the crystal.
These facts are only a superficial description which doesn’t go much smaller than parts of the crystal that can be seen. A description that included the behaviour of atoms and subatomic particles would demand a substantial volume. The brief description however allows us to see that a snowflake, like any other natural phenomenon, is a complex structure which exhibits some processes regular enough to be called Laws, and others random enough to be called chaos, which means that although snowflake is a general term, each and every snow crystal is unique. That is why the history of the planet’s atmosphere and weather systems can be deduced from an examination of ancient snow found at the Poles or on the highest mountains.
For the believer in a creator God, the snow crytsal is a good lesson.
1. As each is unique we have to recognise that creation is not “in the past” but happening now. We should have known this when we recognised the uniqueness of each human baby.
2. Probably God cannot, any more than human beings, know in advance the exact shape of any crystal, because of the indeterminate journey it makes from sky to ground level. Random elements are part of God’s creative action. If we take seriously the notion that God’s word is like to snow, then we will recognise that the accomplishment of the Creator’s purpose includes the astonishing freedom she gives to the elements of any process.
3. If we think of the basic hexagonal shape of the snow crystal, as with the double helix of DNA, we may claim that beauty and efficiency are equal and related aspects of creative wisdom.
4. As the description of snow that we give is from the point of view of human beings rather than say of my neighbour’s dog, or of the spider in the garage, we can truthfully say that we are co-creators with God of what we call snow. But it is surely the case that the canine and arachnid point of view is just as important and that, in fact, all sentient beings are co- creators of our world.
5. The snow started melting as soon as it landed. When I look at the natural world I see first of all events rather than static entities. And of course I have also been changing while I looked at the snow this morning. As Heracltus knew, a person cannot step in the same river twice, because the river is ever -changing… and so is the person.
These reflections are meant to encourage those who believe in a Creator God, to sharpen their understanding of creative wisdom by using the best science available; and to understand the spendour and responsibility of being co-creators of our world, with God.