Gifts of the Winter God

My teaching days were filled with good energy and a sense of exploration.  I love teaching this program and the women who participate so freely and joyfully.  The focus of this session was visual art and the first day we explored “gush art” and art journaling methods, using clay and drawing materials in a free and spontaneous way to express what is stirring inside of us.  The second day we focused on images of God and “letting God out of the box” and making a triptych (out of a shoebox) and collage materials to create an altar for the sacred images that invite us at this time of our lives.

As I made my own triptych, sorting through images to see which ones were calling to me, images of winter kept appearing.  I love winter, especially Northwest winters that are so rainy and grey, so conducive to lighting a fire indoors and making a cup of tea.  I adore the bare branches that reach up to the sky, their stark beauty, the way they reveal the basics.  I love the quietness of winter, fewer people outside.  Winter invites me to rest and contemplation, to capturing quiet walks in the few hours of light.  My triptych became in large part, an ode to the God of winter.  The question rose up in me: what does it mean to have a winter God?  The God of winter invites me into a healing rhythm of rest and renewal, of deep listening in the midst of stillness, of trusting the seeds sprouting deep within that have been planted.  There is a harshness to this winter God as well, winter speaks to me of loss and I have had dreams the last few days of my mother and of Duke.  Winter is the landscape of my grief in all its beauty and sorrow.

There are gifts of new life in the middle of winter.  Like the foster dog my husband and I are going to take into our home tonight.  I found a sweet older (8 years) Weimaraner on Petfinder.com over the weekend in urgent need of foster care.  She has spent most of her life in a breeding kennel neglected, and the family she is with now is too chaotic for her.  We got to meet her yesterday afternoon, she was so very shy at first, and then after several minutes was rolling over on her back for belly rubs.  We decided to think about it for a bit and went to church in the evening.  There was a dog tied up outside the church as we went in, the priest mentioned a dog he had once in his homily, and then at communion there was a woman holding her Schnauser in her arms walking up the aisle.  I am cautious about interpreting signs, because I think it often is easy to think God wants what we want, but sometimes it is hard not to see the connections there.  Fostering feels like a good choice right now, since we are not ready to make a permanent commitment to a dog before our big trip this summer.  But I have lots of time and love to offer and so I welcome in this gift into my life and see where it takes us.

I am still recovering a bit from my teaching days, but excited about the week spread out before me with possibility.  Last week I said to a friend: “I am not sure if I am on sabbatical so much as in a trial period.”  Being an introvert, my epiphanies usually occur inwardly, through prayer or journaling or art-making.  Rarely do I say something and then marvel for a moment at what I just revealed to myself.  In many ways these months ahead feel like a time of testing an even more contemplative way of life and seeing what unfolds.  Trusting the creative and contemplative call that beat so strongly within me.

Gifts of the winter God, of a new companion, and a new vision.  So much can happen in so little time when we are open to wonder and awe.  Have you received any surprise gifts lately?

This week I will begin sharing some of the stamp carvings I did over my retreat time in Tofino on the four elements and the book idea that is being birthed from them.

-Christine Valters Paintner

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