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A Cottonwood Snow

In the South, as the temperatures hover in the 90s by mid-morning, we get our first snow. It falls in airy puffs, like dandelions, from cottonwood trees. The puffs are as fanciful as monarch wings dancing with dappled halos on a whimsical descent. When one lands on you, you make a wish.

This is a vexing time as opinions rise with the thermometer on how simultaneously to socially distance and protest. It’s a good time to turn to the woods that invite us to remember our ideals and to confess freely. Cottonwood snow lowers stress. It is to the woods that all lovers of justice retreat every now and again to stir their hearts and minds toward love for all creation. The civil rights movement’s grandfather, the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, retreated to the woods as a young child in Florida during the era of Jim Crow laws to find a space of freedom. He credits his relationship with an old oak tree for grounding him in his essential beliefs, including radical nonviolence that would influence young preachers such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cottonwoods were here before brothers and sisters were dragged ashore and enslaved. They were here before settlers killed to steal what was not theirs. They witnessed lynching, freedom rides, and secrets. For decades, they silently stood in the alleys of Nashville where we raped, addicted, and arrested our sisters. For the thirty years I have been a pastor, the cottonwood has fallen on the small a-frame chapel where I dreamed of sanctuary for women in Nashville. This year, 2020, as a pandemic sweeps the world and people demand reform of unjust and racist police, prison, and court systems, the cottonwood snow falls again. This yearly shedding is a cleansing, reminding us that we are traveling a long road, and we need strength to keep loving this world and each other.

I lift my head squinting to see the source of the snow and see the moon in the sweet morning sunlight. In the midst of kneeling down and rising up we see the long sweep of time. People have been working for justice for as long as people have killed for power and intimidated by force. I imagine cottonwood snow tufts falling between the heavens and earth, each one holding the name of women and men who have lived for the sake of love in the work of justice.

Keep speaking your truth in love, keep on the path of justice, and go to the woods to see the summer snow.

Peace and love.

— Becca Stevens

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