“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” -Theodore Roethke
“Wisdom comes with winter.” -Oscar Wilde
I love the bare branches of winter trees spread across the muted sky. Those aching arms that have been stripped of encumbrance to reveal the bones.
When autumn comes I am dizzy with delight at the release of fluttering jeweled prayer flags settling to the ground to become the compost for next spring’s flowers. There is an excitement I experience at the change of each day’s landscape, a parade of colors, always something new revealed. It can be easy to forget that this is also the heart of dying.
Then winter arrives and brings with it an often profound stillness. Winter immerses me in the aching beauty of death and loss when my heart is stretched to capacity with longing for what I have loved deeply and had wrenched from me.
I have not always had this deep love of winter. Years ago I might have said that spring or summer were my favorite seasons with their flowering and warmth and endless days. It was really my mother’s death five autumns ago that thrust me into a necessary relationship to the tearing away of fall leaves from their foundations. In those days that followed, I would walk for hours among trees, begging for their wisdom in the midst of my devastating pain. And as autumn became winter, and the leaves had all made their pilgrimage to return to the earth, I found strange comfort. No easy offerings, I both celebrated my grief because of the great love it witnessed to, and I wanted to leap out of its suffocating pool that swallowed me for months.
In the monastic journey through the Hours of the day, it is the night that corresponds to the winter season. The darkened sky rimmed with violet and rain invites me into silence, into rest, into releasing my own frantic busyness in an effort to convince myself that this is what makes my life meaningful. We are often afraid of the dark silent time of the day and the year. We have many ways to keep our lives illuminated and full so that we do not have to ponder winter’s harsh and necessary wisdom.
Winter reminds me that I know very little, that Mystery pulses through creation, through my own beating blood. It is the time for me to lay aside any easy answers offered by religious stories and traditions that seek to assure me it will all be okay, so not to trouble myself. It is the season of humility. Some deaths bring relief, the laying down of the commitment that had become draining, the end of a relationship that had become destructive, the shedding of an identity that had become too narrow. That relief is still accompanied by grief’s draining sense of the familiar rushing out like blood pouring from a wound, the long, dark night of unknowing still ahead.
My own multiple journeys through grief have demanded that I take the Midwinter God seriously. That I look her fiercely in the eye until I see the reflection of my own terror and stay with it, breathe through it, begin to enter it with curiosity to see what it has to teach me about living in meaningful ways, to live a life of depth that takes seriously both suffering and joy. I am called to become friends with the thing I hate — the inevitable loss of everything I love. A friendship that plunges me into the precious nature of each single moment.
This Midwinter I am embarking on another layer of my own journey through a memoir-writing class. I have long known the title of my first attempt at gathering memoir material would be “A Midwinter God.” It came to me one black night like a dream, laid in my palm as a gift that would take time to open. I have been opening it through my own story, as well as my exploration of the struggles and wounds of my ancestors. The doubt and despair, the longings that echo within me as genetic inheritance, that I am also called to make meaningful. For whatever reason, part of my call in this life is to enter the winter landscape and dwell there long enough for my eyes to adjust so that I might begin to see with a different kind of vision and become a companion and guide for others.
What is your relationship to this time of Midwinter?
What does the God of Midwinter invite you to consider?
Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts