Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
A Matter of Background
‘No, it is too clear; the sheep over there on the other side are showing up much too well.’ These are words often heard on our farmyard when we want to discover the kind of weather we may expect. There are many activities on a farm when fine weather is an absolute necessity, and that is the reason why the weather signs are so carefully studied.
It is a bad sign when the mountains appear too close, and the sheep across the valley are too evident. At such times they appear like white spots, against the green of their background, or the copper of the dead bracken, or the blue grey of the rocks. Their background shows up their whiteness to all who see them.
When winter comes, it is a familiar sight of a morning to see the mountain, directly opposite us, white in its blanket of snow. The sheep show up just as well then, too, but no longer as white spots, but like dusky smudges against their dazzling white background. One could swear that they had changed colour overnight. How did they lose their whiteness so suddenly?
One of our dogs, Rhys, is a white sheepdog, and his whiteness is very often a drawback in his work, so difficult is it to distinguish him from the sheep. When he gets the command to gather the sheep together, they think, from his colour, that he is one of them, and they are not convinced until he produces a sound, very different from the bleating of a sheep, and shows them his strength and his mastery over them.
But, when the yard is covered in new, dazzling snow, Rhys’s colour too turns to a kind of dirty yellow, and it is difficult to restrain oneself from giving him a good wash in soap and water to find out, at the same time, whether it is true that ‘whiter than white’ is a possibility!
In northern countries, the stoat will change its colour according to its environment, and in winter it can be seen as white as the snow around it, while for the rest of the year its coat is the rusty brown of the mountain bracken. The secret of its safety is its ability to melt into its background. The sheep do not need this kind of safeguard, nor does Rhys the dog.
The whiteness of the snow shows the true colour of Rhys and the sheep, so that we marvel at the difference. The Holy Spirit alone will show us our true colour against the holiness of God; and the forgiveness of God alone will make us ‘whiter than snow’.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
Mari Jones, When Swallows Return