Last winter when the air was nippy and the sun a white halo, we raked crisp orange leaves into a wheel barrow and hauled them to the garden bed. What was left of our spring labor we covered with black plastic to decompose and restore until next spring.
I didn’t want to wait. I was impatient for the sun’s light to return to me.
I’ve always faced winter with dread. It’s a season of waiting, of popping vitamin D supplements and sitting in front of SAD lamps and wishing time would go faster.
I have often cursed winter for being cold and lifeless and colorless. I have hoped to escape it. What other seasons have I cursed? Seasons of mourning, of anxiety, of pain. I’ve said to them, “I don’t need you.” I’ve said to them, “I don’t want you.”
I’ve been told that a tree’s lifespan is increased by times of dormancy. I’ve been told that winter restores and prepares the earth for new life. I’ve been told that, in spring, the leaf-covered soil will be richer for planting.
These promises are future promises. They give hope to the waiting.
But what of the waiting? Must this waiting be a burden to bear until the coming spring? Or could the time of waiting be beautiful in itself? Could this season be more than a looking-forward to something better in the future?
Our winter metaphors have done the season a disservice. I think of winter as a symbol of loss and death. But the trees haven’t really died. Neither have the grasses, nor the sun. I am like an infant who hasn’t learned that Mom still exists when she turns a corner. How many times do I have to play this game of peekaboo before I understand the permanence of the unseen?
If I took a pocket knife and cut through branches, I would see the cambium—green veins still carrying life.
I call winter colorless, but I am bad at looking for color. I don’t count the shades of brown and grey, or the purple and blue hues of sky or water. Can I notice the miracle of evergreens holding on, vines clinging to brick walls, pine and cedar smelling like home? Can I see the warm colors we surround ourselves with, the red sweaters, yellow lights, blue ornaments?
I call winter cold, but it has it’s own kind of warmth, different from spring and summer. Sunshine heats the skin and seeps its warmth into the bones. It is an external heat forcing its way deeper, soaking the skin with sticky sweat. One goes inside to escape it and drink iced tea to shock the lungs with a cold that shoots to the feet. In winter, one escapes to chicken soup, to coffee, to hot tea. The warmth flows from the inside out, settling goosebumps back into the skin. The special warmth of a blanket or of a hot shower or of skin against skin—unsought for on the hottest days—is welcome always when the temperature drops. It is a warmth of closeness, a dry warmth that one curls up into, breaths into, snuggles with.
What else could I see if I looked?
Snowflakes frosting my hair like a dissolving veil. Cinnamon and cloves and allspice and pumpkin. Tinkling bells, the crunching of boots in frozen slush, boiling tea kettles, burning oak wood crackling and popping like dried corn kernels. Knitted wool hugging fingers, feet, chests, arms. Visiting family on frosted evenings, bringing hot casseroles wrapped in towels. Church carols, red-ribboned wreaths, translucent candle wax dripping, glass ornaments containing these moments in orbed reflections. The manger scenes and readings from the book of Luke—remembering the birth and the future return.
If I keep looking, I might see more—I will see more.
How many seasons of life have I dreaded, cursed, fled from, or avoided? How many have I gone through with my eyes closed?
What if all this time I have missed out on the beauty and grace of the present because I was waiting for a better season?
Even now, in this season of Advent, we wait for the coming of Christ. It can seem like a mournful season at times, one where we wonder when and how. We want it to end, for Christmas to come at last. The assurance of a faithful past and the promise of a faithful future keep us from despair. I hold onto these promises just as 23 springs has assured me that I will see a 24th. But sometimes I think that we let that hope stay in the past and the future rather than living in it now, feeling it now, accepting it now. The promise isn’t just that this time of waiting will end. “The kingdom of God is near,” Jesus says again and again. Just as my nature compels me to look forward to spring, my spirit compels me to look forward to the kingdom. But Jesus is saying that the kingdom is near. His Spirit is in us. His grace is given to us in abundance. Jesus is not a being of the past nor of the future–He is I Am, the present one.
Can we train our minds to look for beauty in the present season? It will take training. And prayer. And thanksgiving. Anne Voskamp writes in “One Thousand Gifts” that it is thanksgiving that opens us up to God and to the fullest life:
“How my eyes see, perspective, is my key to enter into His gates. I can only do so with thanksgiving. If my inner eyes has God seeping up through all things, then can’t I give thanks for everything?…Living in his presence is the fullness of joy—and seeing shows the way in.”
In another chapter, she writes: “The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”
This winter, I want to practice this art of seeing and thanksgiving. Only then can I truly live in this season—and every season—with a joy that this world needs to see and experience.
Can I dare to be positive? Dare to stop complaining? Dare to let hope give me present peace?
May I cut through the moment and see the cambium—the life-giving grace in all things.
May I cover the garden bed and let the soil restore itself while I myself am restored through the practice of seeing beauty in every season.