A few years ago I got off of social media. Along with getting off of social media I mostly stopped following any news source on a regular basis. But there is still one website I still check every morning. The Weather Channel. Sometimes I even find myself checking it multiple times a day. Especially if snow is predicted!
We have all heard the common expression “talking about the weather” used as the perfect example of “small talk,” of the insignificant and unimportant conversation. “Small talk” seems shallow and useless and time consuming. A thoughtful person, we conclude, must talk (and therefore think) about more “serious” things— like social dynamics, national events, church politics.
And yet, in this age of mass communication and constant media, at what point does all the talk about “serious” things become like white noise (and therefore, just as shallow and interchangeable as “small talk?”) Of course, wars and presidential elections and the like matter very much. But we all know the phenomenon of detachment that comes with being exposed to so much news from all over the place— news with which we often have no immediate contact or are not immediately influenced by. We cannot possibly care about it all and so we start to view it as a kind of passive entertainment. That passive entertainment begins to suck our time and attention away from the things over which we do have influence and which do influence us.
Things like the weather.
Of course, it is easy to feel like the weather doesn’t actually influence us. Most of us have access to air conditioning and central heating. We can stay out of the rain if we want to. And, slowly, as the things on the screen become more and more apparently real, the things outside the window become more like a screensaver.
But, at the end of the day, the things outside the window are not a screensaver. We are reminded of this every time weather gets really big and out of control and disastrous. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, extreme heat waves, power outages— we cannot hide from weather forever.
And I don’t think we should. For almost all of human history weather mattered, on a daily basis. To not care about it anymore separates us from our ancestors. It separates us from our common history. And, I believe, by neglecting it, we neglect something fundamental in ourselves. We are physical beings with animal tendencies. We are not all brain. We are not all STEM. And it is simply not enough to satisfy this reality with a quick trip to the gym. I think most of us know this now— that some immersion in nature is necessary for a healthy psyche. But I don’t think some is really enough. The saints continually remind us that God is not someone you can just check in with every now and then. If you want Him to be a part of your life He must be the center of your life. He must influence and inform every single moment and every single decision.
Why would it not be the same with the natural world He created? Why would He not intend for us to be immersed in it?
The truth is, the weather is actually very serious. The fact that we can pretend like it isn’t doesn’t change the truth. It is a funny modern fallacy— that the further away or more abstract a concept is, the loftier and more important. This is exactly why so many of us tolerate so much time spent on computers. Because computers connect us to more of these far away, abstract things. Despite the scientific evidence that nature exposure and hands-on work are incredibly important for childhood development, we continue to encourage children to seek activities and careers which pull them away from the home, from the backyard, from the local community— further away from the most immediate realities and towards the more vague ones. We think it better to understand the immediate world in a general, conceptual sense— the way you read about it in a textbook— than it is to understand it in an experiential sense. Better to know the scientific definitions of weather patterns than to know what rain smells like. Better to know the tenants of the religions of the world than to know the hymns in your parish hymnal. But the truth is that the small, local, familial, immediate, right-outside-the-window-stuff is just as important as everything else, if not more. And the ironic thing, is that this “little stuff” actually inspires the “big stuff.” So many of the greatest poets and artists and philosophers were also farmers or shepherds or mothers. God designed the natural world to inspire us, to surprise us, to challenge us. When we hide from it, we deprive ourselves of reaching our greatest potential.
This morning I woke up to thunder. I love waking up to thunder. I already knew it was likely to thunder, because I had checked the weather last night. But I didn’t know exactly when it would thunder. I didn’t know that it would thunder right as the sun was rising on my birthday. I didn’t know that I would be able to see the sunrise while hearing the thunder. I didn’t know that a June day which is usually extremely hot would blow a refreshing wind through my bedroom window. I didn’t know these things, because, with the weather, there is always room for surprise. There is always room for awe and holy fear and the wisdom and inspiration that comes with it. There is always room to be reminded of God’s words to Job:
Have you seen the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, Which I reserve for times of trouble?
In these times of great trouble— of anxiety and war and viruses and doubt and uncertainty, I have a suggestion:
Let’s talk about the weather.