Blogtext: Christmas Treat

”On the making of a snowstar”

One of the most wellknown statements about life is made by one of the ’great’ greek philosophers.

The unexamined life is not worth living
The unexamined life is not worth living (Ancient Greek: ὁ ... ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ) is a famous dictum apparently uttered by Socrates at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, for which he was subsequently sentenced to death, as described in Plato's Apology (38a5-6).

Everything that exists in the world has been premeditated, planned and meticulously thought out by someone. The mindless mindset of the times is bent on consuming what it never thinks of or about, until the very consumption begins to have after-effects, not seldom of a terrible kind. ”Go on boy, eat all the cookies on the plate! ” But don’t complain of the stomach ache later on..."

Avoiding bitter afterthought is best done by sweet examination and thinking before hand. It is all so beautifully contained in the wise words of the ”Preacher” in Eccclesiastes 12 ”Remember now the Creator in the days of your young age, before the days of trouble come and those years become yours in which you will say: I hate how things have become.” (My paraphrase)

Remember now! This is the rallying call to every sensible and sentient human being faced with whatever task. We do most things out of habit and do not need to think about getting dressed (except what to wear that day of course) or brushing teeth (provided we have any) or eating breakfast, if we can afford it. A million things have been learnt by us and we never pause to think about them. In other words we take them at face value and also take them for granted.

It is when you become a christian that another possible attitude begins to intrude into this unexamined lifestyle. ”The healthy and reverent respect and awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. How often do I hear people say things like: ”You know I have never thought of that!”

Too much thinking can cause untold sleepless nights. Too little thinking does also not the least because of all the pains involved in having to do the same thing many times over before we get it right. Any fool can learn by his own mistakes, the wise person learns from the mistakes and experiences of others. But that means using thought before doing the act. To examine a matter and soundly turn it in your mind before you turn the wood on the lathe is not a bad idea.

So let’s examine the making of these snow stars. When you give a child a pair of scissors and a ready folded cone of paper they may either be dumbfounded and not have the slightest idea what to do next or they will happily snipp away at the paper as fast as possible and then unfold the paper and look at their coarse cuts with glee. They have taken things away from the whole and it is the very holes that make the pattern. The whole was of no use, it is the holes that are the whole trick.

The Cut

I said that I handed that child a ready folded cone. That was of course not the starting point. Before I could hand a cone to the child I had a square of tissue paper. In order to make the snow star I had to do something very important. I placed a plate or other round object in a desired size somewhere on the tissuepaper and drew a circle which I then cut out from the square. To cut a slice of bread or a round of paper you have to separate that piece from the whole of the loaf or the square. To cut and to separate is to set aside. The hebrew word for being holy is ’qadosh’, having the root word meaning ’to cut off’. The making of a simple snow star starts with an act of sanctification, of separating the round from the square. So the making of a simple window decoration starts out exactly the same way the christian life starts: being separated from the common mass of humanity in sinful selfdetermination to become a child of God, to be sanctified for the purpose of God, to be made separate from the world of godless existence to join the kingdom of Light. It is a deliberate and vital starting point. Without that initial separation and ’making holy’, there is no life in God.

Every beautiful real snow-star starts out as shapeless water vapor in the cloud. It is the onset of a sudden drop in temperature that separates that drop of water from the mass and it is the frost that causes the inner properties of the water to become a shape that then falls to the earth or onto my sleeve or upturned face. When examining it with our eyes it is simply frozen water. Whatever brilliant shape it has, that is all it is: water in a frozen state.

Making holes in the whole

Every beautiful window snow-star is still, however fanciful, just tissue paper. But what it looks like is anything but just paper. In fact its beauty comes not from the paper but from what has been removed from the paper. It is the holes and their shapes that creates the pattern. The great challenge is to leave as little of the original paper round as possible! In this respect it is another kind of music! All music that moves us is built up of the pauses between the sounds as well as the pitch and tone and length of the notes. It is the pause that highlights the sound. Tho create pause in between the heard and silent, between the cut away and the retained things is the art of a master. Bach to basics!

To dare to take away, to create a maximum difference between the plain round and the desired snow star is the work of the artist with the scissors. It is not the will of the paper to have most of it removed!! The paper would strive to remain intact! The purpose of the tissue papaer was to act as a covering for a gift, the act of cutting that tissue is a total setting aside of what the paper thinks it is there for and turn it into something it could never become without my scissors. Will it thank me for turning a flat round monochrome into a fascinating decoration at Christmas? Will it gladly accept the change of identity?

Do you see now that the act of turning a round of paper into a star involves losses? As a grain of wheat can never become flour for bread without being utterly crushed to the loss of its own identity so the paper must tolerate the ”holes” being cut in it before it becomes a star. ”What we keep, that we lose, what we give up, that we retain.” The cutting of the holes in the paper is exactly paralell to the hand of God working on our lives to make us true to His image, the one he has in maind, not the one we would seek or desire. It is along the line of ”though being a son, he learned obedience by his suffering, and once He had been made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5:8-9). It is well for the servants of the Lord if they fare the same way that their master did.

What can it be?

The paper round is folded four times to make a cone shape. The thickness of the tissue determines a number of things. The folding of the paper determines possible outcomes. The thinner the tissue is the finer and truer the cuts made are reproduced. The thickness of the paper folded four times will determine the uniformity of the ’holes’. The importance of exact folding cannot be overestimated. The edges must be laid exact. It is no haphazard business to become a star. It needs to be an examined course. If the edges are not laid straight the star will be lopsided and there will be shapes missing on some of the prongs. The folding means one other thing: you make cuts in the two sides of the cone, but every cut is by definition a cut multiplied by 8. One cut gives eight shapes. Cut right and your work is imediately multiplied. As we start on the cone we have no idea what it will be. The folded up paper is not the end, the end result is an unfolding from something not yet known to something very other than the starting cone.

”Beloved it is not yet apparent what we all shall be, but this we know, when we see Him we shall be like him!”(1 John 3:1-3)

So the folded cone is similar to our hidden life, and the cone knows not what the end shall be, the cutter may know if he or she has done many such cuttings before. It is not for the clay to remonstrate with the potter about what the potter has decided to make. We are challenged not to complain of what happens in life because we trust that there will be an end result that is pleasing to Him. Not primarily for our enjoyment. ”No correction is pleasant while it is going on, but afterwards it will bring the joyful and peacable pleasure of rightousness”. Of course ”the paper feels pain” when we cut away bit by bit. Figuratively speaking. But so what? Is the paper my boss? Is it not my right to do with that which is mine what I desire? What will the paper say when the work is done? It will shout for joy and say ”I never knew I had it in me”. But God the primary potter knows what is in the clay to become. And I as the primary cutter know what may become of a simple cone of tissue.

It is my experince of what may be which allows me to hold the scissors rather than letting the paper cut itself. The paper would not cut itself at all. It would never say to me: ”not my will, but your will be done”. But if any paper is to become a star, someone must cut it to shape. And cut it to give it a shape that it had in itself, but did not have in itself to do to itself. Our true human potential can only be released and made visible by the working of God in us.

So often the church is an assembly of tissue paper squares with a lot of potential, but with an inate horror of everything from sanctification to being shaped by a sovereign God for His purposes. And so there is a lack of stars. But lots of window dressing.

Eight or Sixteen

Less is more? The end product will be either a round paper full of various holes with the look of a crocheted little placemat or anti-macassar (if you know what that is raise your hand), or it may look like a star indeed. With eight or sixteen prongs. The number is determined by how much you are willing to risk cutting away. If both ends of the crescent on the top of the cone are cut free then the result will be sixteen, if you cut away most of one side the number will be eight. A bolder star will have less prongs. Less may then be more. There is a tendency on behalf of God to reduce us and teach us to become more and more focused on the important things and therefore be less ready to spread our selves over more than we can actually cope with. ”He must increase, we must decrease.””I have made it my business among you to preach Christ and Him crucified only”. And not the least Jesus statement to Martha about Mary chosing a better part indicate that although all things are lawful, not all are useful. ”She has chosen the better part” would be as much as saying, yes, she could have made a 16 prong star but chose an 8 prong star. It stands out clearer.

Tackets and Lumummas

One thing finally is a word about the two major shapes used in making the stars. Some cuts will be angular, spikish and sharp-pointed, rather ’maleish’. Some will be rounded and soft and much more ’female’in aspect. Of course there is never a question of whether one or the other is in anyway better, both are needed and it is the way they combine that determines the end effect. The two terms are taken from a Swedish psychologist who used them about how we communicate to one another. Tackets are agressive self-centered modes of putting my view across without much concern for what the listener thinks. A lumumma is a softer, disarming and concensus inviting way of speech that opens up where the tackets shut down. But there is a place for both. Typified in John 3:16-18: ”For God so loved the world that he gave us His son, so that whosoever belives in him shall have eternal life.” That is a clear ”lumumma”. Soft and inviting. But the last part in v 18 is the opposite: ”Whosoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he does not faithfully trust and implicitly believe in the name of God’s one and only son.”

It does not get more ”tackettish” than that. Each ’shape’ has its place. Life is not one or the other and a skilled person learns when to use what to whom and when. Those who endeavour to mollify and soften the word of God by removing all ’tackets’ will find themselves on the sharp end of God’s words. When it is too late to be any longer swallowed up by the ’lummuma’ embrace of salvation.

You now know what my examination of this simple christmas craft signifies to me. I am not just doodling stars the way some clutter their phonebook while talking to grandma on the phone. I have been cutting these stars for over forty years, if not fifty. It started out in my home, my mother taught me. I have done it as a child and that same child has remained with me and in me. I continue to derive immense pleasure from each surprise. Because although I know a lot about these shapes and how they affect the end, I am always surprised by the end result. I normally take the as yet uncut cone and hold it to my ear, and I ask it what sort of shape and form it wants to have. Then I thread my fat fingers ino the eyes of the scissors, take a deep breath and apply the first cut. ”The first cut is the deepest!”

Where did I start this discourse on such a simple thing as a Christmas decoration? By speaking of the unexamined life. I can’t say that I have examined all of life by a very long shot, but some things I have examined deeply. And the joy of doing them is now doubled by seeing the way they parallell those spiritual truths that are in God’s other book. The Bible.

”Man shall not, cannot and will not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

May your experience with the snow stars lead you to this other aspect of being a star yourself: ”Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness , like the stars for ever and ever."

Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster 12th of December 2017

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