On which day did God create the wintry mix?
That's what I wondered yesterday. There were unmistakable signs that perhaps God has a sense of humor. How else to explain the sleet followed by snow followed by Zeus-knows-what that started falling yesterday right around the time people all over the Washington area were getting ready to go to church?
Look, God, You want us worshiping You or not?
I listened to the sizzling of the sleet on the pavement and thought the odds were 50-50 our church would cancel. But there was no cancellation message on the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Web site. The mighty phone tree sprang into action notifying parents there wouldn't be any religious education classes, but otherwise, church was a go.
The sermon was on why churchgoers are healthier and live longer than non-churchgoers, a sentiment that might have been questioned by anyone who skidded off the road trying to get to church.
"It's much easier to cancel Saturday night than Sunday morning," admitted Roger Fritts, senior minister at the Bethesda church.
School systems have it easy when it comes to deciding whether to cancel classes. At Cedar Lane, like a lot of churches, officials have to think about whether the choir can make it in, whether the religious education teachers can make it in and whether the worshipers can make it in.
The sanctuary was almost empty for the first of two services, the crowd just a fraction of its normal size. Sunday school had been canceled. The choir wasn't at full strength, but it sounded just fine all the same.
"This room, the emptier it is, the better it sounds," said Mary Darne, the choir director.
The Sabbath storm raised an interesting theological question: Why would God let it snow -- perhaps even make it snow -- on a day of worship?
There are a few possible answers to that, said Roger.
The first is that a half-foot of snow on a Sunday morning is a test of faith. If you really believe, you'll head out into the teeth of the storm.
Then there's the school of thought that holds that God concentrates on the Big Stuff. He has better things to do than conjure up snowstorms as a test of people's faith.
Or perhaps there are some things God can't do. If He could stop a snowstorm -- or halt a tornado or alter the path of a hurricane -- He would. This is the "why do bad things happen to good people?" school of thought. God didn't mean to give you a zit on your nose the night of the prom. These things just happen.
Finally, there's the possibility that a Sabbath snowstorm is just a random occurrence, yet more proof that there is no God. (As if Paris Hilton and aerosol cheese aren't enough.) I asked Roger what Unitarians believe. "We don't require a particular belief," he said. "Each person can decide."
As for himself, Roger said he falls into the third camp: God can't control everything.
Eager for another explanation, I drove to the Washington Buddhist Vihara on 16th Street NW. The sleet had turned to fluffy, white snowflakes. The rain that the radio weather people kept promising was nowhere in sight.
Yesterday was supposed to be the Vihara's annual Asian food bazaar, but when I removed my shoes in the vestibule, I saw that there were only three other pairs, not the hundreds I'd expected. The bazaar had been canceled.
"We lost the Asian food bazaar, but we have the snow," said Bhante Maharagama Dhammasiri, the Buddhist monk who is the Vihara's president. "It's a blessing. We can enjoy the snow now. So we have a balance."
But aren't you disappointed? I asked.
"Of course we feel disappointment, but we know we can't do anything to change this," said Bhante Vidura, one of the five monks who live and meditate there.
"It is very easy for us, for we are fixed with shock absorbers," explained Bhante Dhammasiri. "That means the Buddha taught us about the impermanence of everything. So when we know that everything is impermanent, that knowledge works as shock absorbers."
Besides, God has nothing to do with snowstorms anyway, the monks said. Yesterday's snow was just an example of utu niyama, said Bhante BeligalleDhammajoti, another of the monks. That's an expression best translated as "seasonal changing."
Said Bhante Dhammajoti: "It's just [the] nature of nature."
I tried to adopt the calmness of the Buddha as I drove home -- wheels spinning sickeningly in what had quickly become four inches of snow.
"It's just the nature of nature," I said after I abandoned my car three blocks from home and started trudging up the hill to my house.
As the snow fell, I sensed that prayer was all around me. Even the little atheist children were praying there wouldn't be any school today.