The endless snow in the mountains is great for skiing if you can get there. But the avalanche realities on the interstate this week are keeping the masses away from the over six feet of new snow that is falling this week.
The avalanche. It's a big part of our heritage here in the Pacific Northwest, inundated as we are by abundant mountain snows, the product of all that Pacific Ocean moisture finding its way inland. As the snow falls on certain slopes, its mass grows, looking harmless, beautiful even. But the moment will come when there's enough snow mass for gravity to win the day. When that happens the snow, all of it that has been building up silently and harmlessly, gives way. BOOM! An entire slope disappears. I was called in to help with a search once for a woman buried by an avalanche. One minute she's standing next to her boyfriend, admiring the beauty of the Cascades and talking about how glad she was to have moved out west. The next minute she's gone, buried in an avalanche so deeply that her body wasn't found for several days. I stayed behind as chaplain for the young man whose girlfriend just died. On the way out we hiked in single file, one by one across a precarious slope so that a rescue team might be readily available should it happen again. When it was my turn, the whole mountain gave way again. I was saved only because I was standing directly below a small stand of trees and rock that split the avalanche in two directions, burying the trail both in front of, and behind me. So yes... I'm a little intimidated by avalanches.
This week though, I've been reminded that what I call the 'law of the avalanche' runs through more than just mountain passes. The Law Of The Avalanche (let's call that LOTA) simply means that in many areas of life there is a big gap between action and consequence. Snow builds up to a point of unsustainability and then gives way all at once.
The same thing happens with auto maintenance, as I realized this week when my car had a 'valve spring' break. This happened at an inconvenient time (as if any time for the breaking of a valve spring could be convenient), and the mechanic said, "has this baby been burning a bit of oil?" I nodded.
"A bit" I said. He chastened me and said that if a compression test had been run on the valves this could have been avoided. That's an example of LOTA in action. The nastiness was building up and there were tiny warning signs, not to mention the pleas for regular maintenance, much of which went unheeded because there appeared to be no immediate threat. Then, driving over the tiniest little hill up north by the Canadian border...BOOM followed by CLICK CLICK CLICK COUGH (add sulfer smell), quickly followed by a lecture from the mechanic.
By that night, LOTA had kicked in yet again, this time attacking my body. When I rose from the supper table, my back cried out in pain, and I was reduced to immobilized mush, lying on the floor with my feet up, reading a book that is periodically a favorite of mine called, "Back Care Basics". I look at pictures of proper ways to sit, stretches and exercises that should be part of a regular routine but which I regularly ignore because there's no pain. The book though, tells me that these bad habits will accumulate unnoticed, weakening the fundamental structure of the spine until... BOOM followed by PAIN PAIN PAIN, quickly followed by a lecture from the book: "don't wait until a pain crisis to care for your back."
As a lay in the 'healing position', I set the book down and pondered where else in my life I'd been rolling the dice with LOTA. Neglecting habits of the spirit can have serious consequences too and LOTA plays that field well. It's eminently easy to blow off prayer, Bible reading, silence, solitude, because so much else is pressing in. But a build up begins to occur there too - what is it this time? Bitterness? Lust? Self-Pity? Anger? We try not to let any of it show, but we're creating some massive instability (called hypocrisy), which will eventually give way, exposing the reality of our neglect. It happened to the nation of Israel (read Jeremiah). It happened to the religious leaders of Jesus' day as their neglect of relationship and love for God was revealed when they crucified there very One of whom their scriptures spoke when they read and taught each Sabbath. And it can happen to me - maybe even you.
I'm writing this with an ice pack strapped to my back, debating whether or not I can venture out the door today and make my way to appointments with our family one car down. LOTA's been visiting me this week. But truth be told, I feel as if I've gotten off cheaply. I'd rather learn my listen with lumbar stresses, and broken valves than a massive avalanche of flesh crushing my spiritual life. So when I'm done with this post, I'll lie down once again in healing position, this time with Bible in hand, and repent of neglecting to keep the slopes of my heart clean over the past busy weeks. My spirit feels better already.
Thanks Lord, for cheap avalanches - wake up calls inviting me to care for the things entrusted to me. Cars and backs yes, but more significant things as well - relationships with family, co-workers, friends, You. I pray you'll grant me the wisdom to pay attention to the preventative maintenance needed in these arenas, as well as the arena of my heart, so I'll be better able to fulfill the calling you've given me to bless and serve. In your great name I pray... Amen.