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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 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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8 Responses

  1. Thanks so much Bette. I took that photo while waiting at the Peace Arch border crossing to get back into the US (because of the holidays I had an hour to look at pretty trees!)

  2. What a great photo for our Winter God! Your “Letting God out of the box” triptych project sounds like great therapy and just plain fun. Glad your teaching went well. Prayers to you for your continued creativity and contemplation. Many good things ahead. Amen!!!

  3. Wendy, I love the image of the bear dreaming in her snow cave! Yes, the essence of things is a big part of what I love so much about winter. And Tune says thank you for her doggie blessings.

    Me, it’s great to find others who love winter as much as I do! Here in Seattle, so many folks dread winter because of all the rain and dark days.

    Cathy, thanks so much for sharing your foster dog experiences. I think Tune is going to work out well with us.

    Karla, what beautiful images you offer! yes, the essential and the basic are part of the great beauty of winter for me as well. Blessings as you continue on your journey of grief.

    Cathleen, what a lovely question you offer in reflecting on what fostering means. I would add to hearts and souls, bodies as well. I know part of my sabbatical is putting my body first right now so it can do some of its own healing. Thanks for helping me connect that with our new canine friend.

    Such gifts you all offer! Thank you and blessings, Christine

  4. “Winter God” is such a rich image if we’re willing to lean into it. So is “stark beauty”, asking us to see the beauty of emptiness – snow covered fields, bare branches right alongside relationships ending, changing health conditions. Perhaps this is the season to consider what needs “fostering” in our lives, what part of our hearts and souls have been neglected or abused and now need the tender love and care that you are offering to your foster dog. I trust your first night together was hospitable for your new 4 legged friend and that she will soon learn to trust you fiercely. Blessings to each of you, Cathleen

  5. As flakes of snow danced in the beam of my headlights enroute to work last night, I thought about the messages I need to hear this winter. 2006 was a year of great change and much chaos and grief for us. I thought as I drove tonight, what a gift the barreness of this open winter has been. I love the beauty of a blanket of fresh snow, but as you described the “stark beauty” of the bare branches, I thought of how that barreness has brought about a simpler view for me. The drab landscape of harvested corn fields and brown/grey hay fields has allowed me to see that which is essential and basic, the soil… ashes to ashes, from ashes you have come and to ashes you shall return. And yet as the light is so gently returning already, the sun/Son shines down a message of hope, of peace, of joys to come. Thanks, Christine, for offering your journey in this place. May you continue to find gifts of winter as well! –Karla

  6. We have had foster dogs and so glad we did. Right now we have just adopted a dog from a rescue group who got her from a puppy mill. She has spent all of her life in a crate until she came to us. She is learning what its like to be around people, and a home. She is the sweetest thing. I hope you find as much joy as we do with our dogs.

  7. I love winter. I love winter. I love winter.

    There you have it. To me winter is the season of renewal the time for rest and restoration – a time for putting in order before – life burst out fresh and green and busy.

  8. Hi Christine, I love all the seasons, but winter touches something deeper in me than any other really, and i also think it offers a special support to those who are more introverted too. It is the time of the bear dreaming in her snow cave, the time of bringing things down to essence and quiet like nature is doing, the time of lights and joy and hope as we celebrate the Christmas season too. I love winter so much.

    I was moved by the little dog coming into your life, and pray you will each be a blessing for the other. I just know you will be : )

    Blessed New Year–and New Dog Friend : ) Wendy