I Kings 19:9-13
I began thinking about how this winter storm was going to affect us when I first heard about it. Listening to the weather report yesterday I decided the blizzard offered a perfect opportunity to simply reflect on winter.
In the middle of winter, I remember my ailing grandmother say to me, “I just want to be out in my garden again.”
I knew what she meant. There in that tiny back yard, she could escape from the housework and be amongst the sights and smells of the garden.
In the biting cold of winter we often long for those damp, warming breezes that make our bones feel less rigid, our muscles less stiff. For some, winter holds only one blessing, and that is the fact that spring comes after winter.
A while back, I was given a book called The Promise of Winter. What, I wondered, does this mean? I thought maybe it was about bereavement or grief management or something. But then I opened the pages and found wisdom and beauty in the words of Martin Marty and the photographs of his son, Micah.
The promise of winter was the first thing I thought of when this storm hit. I have always gotten a bit excited about storms - growing up on the shoreline we tend to like the blowing wind that whips up the waves and fragrances the air with salt and seaweed. A winter storm is a little different. You don’t want to get stuck in it because, well, it’s cold.
But the promise of a winter storm is something deep seated, like a memory from childhood. My friend, Liz, and I were talking about just this. She said she remembers the feeling of being hunkered down out of the snow inside, sitting by the fire. The silence of it all, then the burst of energy when as kids we did as much as we could in the white possibility, then wet and exhausted would stagger into the warmth again and gorge on hot chocolate and cookies.
Quiet. That was what it felt like last night once the snow started. Few cars out. Those that were, their tires were muffled by the cushion of snow. I felt that hunkered down feeling again, as if in wait for something good, something powerful to come.
The image of winter speaks to the quiet times, the occasions when we lean back and search our interior lives. It represents some of the “down” sides that come every ordinary day - disappointments, setbacks, frustrations, puzzlements, and even temptations to doubt and depression and despair. (p 6)
Even if we were living close to the equator, where winter never brings severe cold, we don’t escape winter in our souls. Farmers know that in the rhythm of the year and the nature of the soil, there is a reason for fields to lie fallow for a season - winter. So, too, we know that in the rhythm of the day and the nature of the soul, there are reasons for the pace of our thought and for our spiritual reflections to vary.
Psalm 83 begins as a plea: “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!”
Except for the wind, we are in the still, now, gathered close as we are, sheltered and in the company of one another. The weather reports last night showed there were winter thunderstorms in the fury of the storm. The calm that follows often feels very odd. “Poets call this preternatural, because it seems to exists eerily beyond nature.”
“No bird song, no whistle of the wind, no crackle of a twig interrupts the quiet. Plants are at rest, as are households. Often that means all is well. Souls seeking escape from the tumult of business and busy people welcome such hours and occasions.”
It seems that though we welcome moments of stillness, of quiet, we soon get restless. After being still, after doing nothing, we usually need a sense that someone is near, that events can occur. The search for company is strongest when we feel danger or fear being isolated. When people long ago feared the stalking of their enemies, they cried to God to break the silence. So do people now.”
"Winter of the soul may come in any season. When it arrives, no matter what the time of year, it may bring with it the feeling that we are abandoned. Like the yearnings of Elijah on that mountain, when we crave most the direct voice of God, it seems most difficult to hear. When we most desire company, we feel most alone. Stillness at [those] times does not produce quiet within. Instead it awakens a kind of trauma . . . best interrupted a cry: 'O God!'" ( p. 32)
Cultivating the presence of God today and listening helps assure that the only silences we experience are of the welcome sort: those that produce quiet in our fragile hearts.
let us pray: When you seem long absent from my disturbed heart, provide me with a sign of your presence, giving me the quiet and peace I seek. Amen.
Quotations and prayer from The Promise of Winter: quickening the spirit on ordinary days and in fallow seasons. Martin Marty and Micah Marty, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI; 1997.