Samantha Stephenson reflects on the beauty God has written into the microscopic details of reality.
I’d been dreading winter, but as my kids press their noses against the cool glass to watch the first snowflakes fall, their anticipation is catching. The frigid rush of air whooshing in through the back door announces to our cozy kitchen the arrival of something new and exciting. My kids scramble to greet it like a long-lost friend, hobbling half-dressed through the threshold, returning for the forgotten scarves and fallen gloves littering the hall in their wake.
The snow charms me as well, despite myself. Maybe it’s the slow silence of the way it drifts in, blanketing everything in crisp white sparkles. Unlike its ferocious relative, the rainstorm, the snow doesn’t announce itself, nor does it assault its bystanders. Snow is the more contemplative cousin of the precipitation family.
The chill overcomes me, and I turn back to the warm glow of the kitchen, leaving my kids to the world of snow building, their imaginations made manifest. I return later to watch them, steaming mug in hand. As I sip, the hot steam reawakens the tip of my nose over its rim, and the patterns of frost on the windowpanes take hold of my attention.
If we look closely enough, each snowflake is made of sometimes thousands of snow crystals, each with its own intricate hexagonal structure (thank you homeschooling). Like fingerprints, each has its own unrepeatable microscopic pattern. These artistic flourishes with mathematical precision have fallen, unseen by human eyes, for eons.
As I scurried about the house this Advent, placing items just so—before the kids inevitably “perfected” my placement of all decor—frosting cookies that will scarcely be glanced at before they become sticky fingers and crumbs littered across the floor, and tying bows atop pretty paper destined to become piles of rubble brimming our overfilled trash bins on December 26, I couldn’t always account for the joy of attending to these tiny bits of beauty.
Then, an idea dawned slow and bright as the dawn peeking over the snowcapped peaks in the distance. God has written beauty into reality, down to each tiny snowflake. When I attend to the little details of our home, the carefully tied ribbons and strung-up lights are not worldly or trivial—they are sacramental. In beautifying our home, I act in the image of our Creator, who has beautified all of reality, down to the last microscopic snow crystal.
Untold billions of intricately designed snow crystals have graced our earth unseen, unappreciated. I’m struck by the joy and anticipation God must have had in the moment the first human being thought to catch a snowflake for viewing under a microscope. Almost immediately, my grumpy inner theologian chastises me: “God is outside of time. We can't think of him anticipating anything.” My inner poet shushes away those technicalities, trusting in the wonder and awe of discovering God's secret designs, and His patience as he waits for us to revel in them.
Our family recently traveled to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Hidden beneath the unassuming desert landscape of New Mexico are miles of extravagant columns, flowing draperies, bottomless pools and cave pearls, floor to ceiling magnificent detail. All of this formed over thousands (millions? a better homeschool mom would know) of years. And in all that time, these features remained in total darkness, impossible to see. Not even the Native Americans had stumbled upon it (I do know that much; it was on the tour). It was God’s silent secret until a single cowboy decided to follow the trail of bats streaming out of the cave’s mouth one summer evening. Can you imagine being Jim White, discovering Carlsbad for the first time? What a gift God bestowed on him.
Marveling at snowflakes and musing on caverns, I’m reminded of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Jesus made this same point Matthew recorded 2,000 years ago, but like Jim White, I’m finally discovering it anew just now: God created us with no less detail than nature’s intricate wonders.
The caverns of our souls can be dark places with rough edges. When those same spaces fill with light, they become devastatingly beautiful. That is what Jesus does when we let him in. He brings his light to the spaces where we would stumble in darkness. When we allow Jesus to brighten and highlight the beauty in even—or perhaps especially—the most precarious places of our lives, we might yet stumble upon the beauty he has hidden there, waiting for us to find it.
Copyright 2023 Samantha Stephenson
About the Author
Samantha Stephenson is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mama of four, host of the podcasts “Brave New Us” and “Mama Prays,” and author of Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad. Follow her blog at MamaPrays.com or sign up for her newsletter at FaithandBioethics.com to receive the latest updates on medical research, technology, and culture.