The Lessons of Winter:
Snowed In and Forced to Slow Down
So, here in Rhode Island we are in the midst of an “historic blizzard,” and told that we should expect around thirty inches – two and a half feet – of snow! Most people I have talked to say they don’t mind being snowed in, as long as they do not lose power.
As much as I am NOT a cold weather person, I must admit that I would not want to live year-round in a place without seasons. I have come to realize that the seasons of the earth teach us a lot of lessons about the seasons of our lives. In the midst of this blizzard, I think the lesson is the need to pause and slow down. How counter-cultural is THAT?
In the Christian tradition, this is the season of Lent and Easter. Easter, by far, is my favorite day of the Christian calendar. Each year we are invited, during the forty-day season of Lent to die to those things in our lives which we need to die to, in order to rise to the new life of Easter. Christ’s death and resurrection invites us to our own death and resurrection. Saint Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried, therefore, with him, by baptism, into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, surely we will be united with Christ in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6: 4-6) One of the most powerful liturgies for me is the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, when we baptize adults who have been in a process of learning and formation during Lent. It is also a time for all the baptized to renew their own baptisms at the Easter Vigil, dying and rising to new life with Christ.
In the life cycle, springtime is symbolic of birth and early childhood. We see the new life in the bunnies and lambs of Easter, which are really leftovers from pagan or earth-centered springtime ritual celebrations. Every Easter, we are invited to let ourselves experience new birth.
Summer is the season of growth, warmth, heat, the buds and plants that burst forth from the earth growing and maturing and bearing fruit. We are aware of the abundance and vitality of the earth in all its fullness. We could say that in the human life cycle, this is the season of adulthood, of coming into our true selves, of developing our careers or venturing onto our vocational paths.
It is a colorful, vibrant season. In the Christian Church this is the season of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost Jews celebrated the spring barley harvest. For early Christians the day of Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian Church. On this day we also celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, whose name in both biblical languages of Hebrew (Ruach) and Greek (Pneuma) means Wind, Breath, and Spirit. We are told that a “mighty wind” blew through the house where the disciples were gathered. We are also told that each disciple felt the Holy Spirit breathe within her or him. In Hebrew Ruach is feminine. In Greek it is a neuter word, but a feminine concept. For us summer is about being fruitful. In the life cycle it is also usually the season of marriage and child-bearing, literally “bringing forth fruit!”
Autumn is the season of harvest and ingathering. The vibrant colors burst forth in one final season of glory, and then the leaves fall to the earth, disintegrate, and fertilize the soil, for the hibernation of winter, and the nurturing of the seeds which will come forth in the spring.
Autumn is a season of letting go of those things in our lives, of which we need to let go, but also of celebrating accomplishments, things coming to full fruition, and harvesting our gifts with thanksgiving. In the human lifecycle, autumn is the season of mid-life. We have accomplished much in terms of our families and/or our careers. We are enjoying our successes, the harvests of all of our hard work. We are still full of life, filled with vibrant colors, in fact. There is a fullness and abundance to life. I feel that I am at this stage in my own life.
Finally, there is the season of winter. Okay, so I admit it is my least favorite season. I love the first snow, which I am gazing upon even as I write this. I love the earth blanketed in dazzling, pristine white.
But then the cold starts to get to me. And the darkness. The snow gets packed down and trampled, turns icy and dirty and grey. I get tired of the layers, the short days, of staying inside. The trees stand stark, naked in the grey light. My friend Ginger helped me to see in their bare limbs another kind of beauty, rugged, and raw. My father always said winter is the season of old age in the life cycle. Winter and old age “are not for sissies,” he would say. But as winter forces us to hibernate, to slow down, to rest, so it teaches us the importance of these lessons. For without winter, we would not have the energy to burst forth into the new green shoots of spring. So, it is winter, but in this pause, in this hibernation, in this darkness, light begins to expand. The days grow longer, the roots dig deeper, the energy gathers, and a turning takes place within us. A turning from darkness to light, from cold to warmth, from death to new life.
Photos: Across the street/blizzard; our back yard, blizzard; planting our secret garden with Sylvie; Ted, garden; Linda, Nhew Hampshire; Retreat Center, West Hartford; Retreat Center; Newport, blizzard; Rocky Mountains, CO