Contemplations of a Snow Leopard


He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts fort His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold?
Psalm 147:16-17

Every so often, when weather and schedule’s permit, I turn into a snow leopard. I’ll disappear for several hours into the snowy high mountains to go snowboarding. There’s a bit of irony in it: I was raised in Hawaii and but learned to snowboard long before I learned to surf. Though I took up snowboarding during my graduate school years, the sport came somewhat naturally to me. And even though I don’t get to traverse the slopes often (I’ve gone a total of eight times since I took up the sport in 2007), I usually pick up right where I left off, and learn new skills each time. I wouldn’t call myself good, but I’m proficient enough to thoroughly enjoy my time carving and leafing down the blue and black diamonds of slopes in Mt. Rose in Lake Tahoe.

And when there’s proficiency, there’s freedom. And when there’s freedom, there is reflection and contemplation, as there was when I first wrote this article. With several hours of solitude—away from the loved ones I pour myself into day-in-day-out and away from the city where I labor and minister—I had time to chew on some biblical truths that came to mind during those hours of “snow leoparding.” Here are nine of them (in no particular order).

Reflection #1: The infinite vastness and beauty of God (2 Chronicles 2:6)
There were points where I had to stop and sit because my quads were cramping. But there were points where I stopped and sat simply to look up and out into the world before my eyes. Viewing God’s creation atop the slopes of Tahoe reminds you of just how vast our world is and just how small man is. What are we, really, when we consider the whole of the heavens and the earth that declare the glory and power and beauty of God? And to think that this vast world that we see from atop the ski slopes is but a infinitesimal part of the created but finite universe that cannot contain an infinite God is a sobering and pointed reminder of the incomprehensible and infinite vastness of our Almighty Creator. Before him, we truly are nothing.

Reflection #2: The need to traverse the ever-changing terrains of life (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
Maybe I’ve thought about this more because most of the running I’ve been doing lately has been on a treadmill. But what makes snowboarding both exciting and difficult—and potentially dangerous—is the changing nature of the terrain. Hence, a key component to a good snowboarder is balance—the ability to maintain athletic equilibrium while traversing a varying medium. This is a microcosm of wisdom, is it not? There’s a reason why being book-smart doesn’t always translate into wisdom. Books are static; life isn’t. Wisdom calls for the ability to navigate through the ever changing and unpredictable terrains of life, from prosperity to calamity and everything in between, without falling away from the faith.

Reflection #3: Failure is necessary for growth (Luke 22:31)
The first time I went snowboarding back in 2007, with my first run being down a blue diamond at Big Bear, I didn’t really fall. And up until today, I’ve made a habit of staying on my feet and off my bum. This particular time was different, as I did spend a fair amount of time falling (in the first few runs) as I was learning a specific skill that I hadn’t really tried before. But going into this particular trip, I knew that if I was going to get to the next level as a snowboarder, I would have to self-learn a new skill and implement it down a true and legitimately difficult blue and be okay with falling. I was determined. And thankfully, I learned it successfully. Such a lesson is important for snowboarding, for sports, and for life. Aside from our Savior himself, there has been no saint in redemptive history who lived life free from mistakes and failures. Experiencing falls and learning from them is indispensable to growth as a Christian.

Reflection #4: The God-given commission for humans to subdue the planet (Genesis 1:28)
My body doesn’t naturally do well with cold weather. But a thick waterproof jacket, snow pants, a beanie, and gloves made the experience comfortable. Come to think of it, snow hasn’t always been man’s best friend for much of human history. Cold, snowy winters were the reason for high mortality rates in previous centuries. The reason is because humans are physiologically great at getting rid of heat and terrible at retaining it. Hence, surviving and thriving in Hawaii requires less ingenuity than doing so in Siberia. And yet, with all of our physical frailties, God has commissioned man to scatter over the face of the earth, and has endowed him with the ability to subdue every part of the earth. I’m reminded of this truth when my skinny, tropically-built body experiences refreshment rather than stress in the snowy slopes of Lake Tahoe.

Reflection #5: The need for males to expend athletic energy (Psalm 19:5)
While I found it wonderfully refreshing to twist and turn down the slopes to the point of my quads cramping, my wife was simultaneously finding refreshment catching up with a friend over hot chocolate at the lodge. The reality is that God wired men and women and boys and girls differently. This is true cognitively. This is true socially. This is true sexually. This is true athletically. And when it comes to athletics, men—especially young men—generally need to release physical energy in a way that women don’t, in the same way that women need a level of verbal communication in a way that most men don’t. I’m generalizing, obviously. I know many men who love to talk and many women who love sports. But survey the majority of parents who have raised boys, and they’ll tell you just how beneficial it is to keep them athletically active in a way that’s different from those who have raised daughters. Not much changes in adulthood.

Reflection #6: Spiritual power is given to us, not created by us (2 Timothy 1:7)
Snowboarders and skiers are a different breed of athlete, in that gravity is an asset rather than something that needs to be defied. The speed of a snowboarder comes not from overcoming gravity, as is the case for a runner, but rather by allowing gravity to move him. The failure of a snowboarder to traverse down the slopes at a high velocity is not because of the lack of available force (gravity doesn’t leave), but due to his own inhibitions caused by his own timidity. As a minister of God and a soldier of Christ, I know that he has given me a spirit of power. The ability to dynamically engage in the work he has commissioned me to do amidst obstacles is already in me, as bestowed by him. Hence, inability on my part is not due to God’s failure to supply, but my own timidity. In the same light, it is a glorious truth that the power to engage in God’s work is already given to us, and need not be created by us.

Reflection #7: You can only control your own body (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Snowboarding is similar to surfing. You can have a 9-year-old girl outperform her 16-year old brother purely because she has more control over her own body, despite her brother’s superior muscular power. The best snowboarders are not necessarily the strongest or the fastest athletes, but the ones with superior body-control. They are experts at telling their bodies what to do and how to be positioned against natural instinct. Hence, having strong internal core muscles is key for success in the sport.

Such is life, is it not? There are a lot of things that we as people try to control that we simply can’t. But there is one aspect that we often neglect to control that we can—our own bodies. As Christians, this cannot be. Exert mastery over yourself—your thoughts, your deeds, your actions, your decisions—for this is the will of God and the fruit of the Spirit. That Christ has died for our sins and has risen again on our behalf means that we are now dead to sin and alive in Christ. There is no excuse for the Christian, then, to behave in a way that is enslaved to sin.

Reflection #8: The need for solitude (Luke 5:16)
One pastor friend once joked, “It is not good for man to be alone…except if you’re JR!” Honestly, my energy get’s depleted by people easily. Very easily. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert, but I knew that I couldn’t keep going at the ministry rate I was going back at home without some sort of a break where I could get away from people for a prolonged period of time. I’m around people all the time. Being by myself in the mountains for several hours was thoroughly refreshing for my soul. But whether you’re an introvert who gains energy from solitude or an extravert who gains energy from people, solitude is still a beneficial—if not necessary—component of life. Jesus spent much time alone with just his Father, away from those whom he loved and ministered to. All Christians are called to engage in periods of private communion with God. Christ did it. So must we walk in his footsteps.

Reflection #9: The human need for perspective (Job 38-42)
I thought of Job when I was in the snow, because God rhetorically interrogated Job about snow! When Job suffered and got to the point in his agony when he started to interrogate God, God finally answered and told him to consider natural creation, including the storehouses of snow (Job 38:22). Job would gain wisdom and redemption not by receiving explanation for his suffering, but by gaining perspective and learning to see his suffering in the landscape of God’s creative and providential work in our universe. I honestly went into the week battling a tremendous amount of discouragement and stress, which was being exacerbated by what was becoming a chronic myopia. And while focus is necessary, myopia is unhealthy. As God showed Job that we need to see our current situation—good or bad—in light of the entire span of our lives. And we need to see our lives in the landscape of God’s larger creative and redemptive work that includes us but is centered around him and his glory.

I guess, every once in a while, I need to contemplate life as a snow leopard.

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