I have been reading a fascinating book, at least in the first chapters, by a woman named Katherine May called Wintering. She proposes that all of us not only endure or celebrate the current season of cold and dark and fallow time, but that winter for most of us can be a rich spiritual and emotional season of growth. "Everybody winters at one time or another, some of us winter over and over again. Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you (feel) cut off from the world, feel rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider."
One can enter a wintering through a life event, a loss, an illness, or transition or emotional crisis. She says that the entry to wintering can be swift or creep up slowly, perhaps through the gradual failing of a relationship or the taking on of new responsibilities or the realization of the immutable changes taking place in one's own body or person. Whatever the reason, wintering is usually not deliberately sought, and it is isolating, painful, frustrating. It feels as if we have lost our pace with the world and can't quite get back to the normal living rhythm, and what's worse, is the feeling that this is shameful and we must somehow hide our deficiency from the rest of our acquaintance, embarrassed and humiliated by our failure.
We all experience 'wintering' seasons in our lives. It is part of human experience. I know I have had those times when like in the January doldrums, all I can manage is to keep on keeping on, devoid of energy or positive motivation, stuck in the grey fog of isolation.
It is there, perhaps, that the real shining light of a faith community matters.
I remember a story told by the wonderful Episcopal author, Madeleine L' Engle. She explained that she had been in a sudden traffic accident. Taken to the emergency room, still hurting and not quite sure of what had happened or whether she was badly injured, she found that she suddenly was unable to pray. Lying on the gurney, the best she could manage was to mouth bits of the Lord's Prayer by rote, but with no sense of comfort.
And in that moment of isolation, even from the God she knew and loved and was loved by, the door to the room opened and in came members of her church family, who stood around the bed and prayed for her. Engle realized that this was the gift of Christ in his church; the Body held up all its members when they could not hold up themselves to God's love.
She wrote: "I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest height. It is when things go wrong,when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly."
Many years ago, after the death of my first husband, David, my children and I were simply surviving. It was the wintering of all winterings. And into it came Bob, my second husband to be. At those very moments when the chaos and emotional tsunami of children grieving for the father they had lost, some angry, some in despair and depression, my own realization of the responsibility I now had to be both father and mother, and single provider, Bob brought his nighttime comfort song: "When you're alone and feeling blue, no one to tell your troubles to, remember me. I'm the one who loves you. And when the whole world lets you down, and not a true friend can be found, remember me. I'm the one who loves you..." It was a simple song, a gesture of love, but in it we found we were sustained, held, befriended.
Henri Nouwen says, "When I trust that today, God is truly with me, and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps, I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God's love within me and around me."
It is winter. And some of us are wintering. But we are not alone. We have a God who remembers us, is with us, loves us; and we have each other to bring that love to our presence. Nouwen says, "I want you to hear that voice, to gradually learn to listen to a voice that says, "You are the Beloved and on you my favor rests." "It is not a loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth. Our truth. It tells us who we are."