Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

Invitation to Poetry: The Gifts (and Challenges) of Winter

Welcome to the Abbey’s 54th Poetry Party (it has been long overdue)!

I select an image and suggest a theme/title and invite you to respond with your own poem. Scroll down and add it in the comments section below. Feel free to take your poem in any direction and then post the image and invitation on your blog (if you have one), Facebook, or Twitter, and encourage others to come join the party! (permission is granted to reprint the image if a link is provided back to this post)

On Sunday, January 15, I will draw a name at random from the participants and the winner will receive a free registration spot in my upcoming online art retreat for the season of Lent – Soul of a Pilgrim (February 22-April 7, 2012).



I adore winter trees.  Something about their bare beauty, revealing their essence against a pale sky, makes my soul sing.  They remind me that winter calls us to shed what is not necessary and turn inward, seeking the gifts of silence and stillness.  A winter landscape demands that we slow down to receive its invitation.  There is no rushing through this season.

I have a fascination with bones for the same reason.  Something about this return to our own essence offers up a powerful invitation to me.  In Paris I have gone to see the catacombs, a sacred burial site underground of the bones from millions of bodies that were deposited there.  Being in their presence elicited a deep sense of awe and wonder at the lives that once animated these skeletons, the brilliant minds contained in those skulls, the passionate hearts once beating within those bodies.  And knowing that one day I will also be rendered into the essence of dust and bone.  It can be a painful knowing, but one that brings me to a sense of cherishing life, of savoring its beauty.

I invite you to write a poem this week about the gifts (and challenges) of winter.  What does this season call forth from you?  Where do you seek greater restoration and the nourishment that only darkness can bring?  What are the challenges you experience as you wait for the light to return?

If you are one of my beloved southern hemisphere readers, feel free to image the far-off winter season, or share with us what you are discovering about summer’s gifts this year.

*Please note: Some folks are having trouble with the comment feature – I am looking into the issue, but if you are unable to leave your poem please email it to me at and I will make sure it is included.*

You might also enjoy

Monk in the World Guest Post: Jenny Taylor

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jenny Taylor’s reflection “Inspiration on the not-so-wild edge of Suffolk.” Spending nine days on virtual pilgrimage in the company of “dancing monks”,

Read More »

76 Responses

  1. “Branch out.”
    “Climb to new heights.”
    “Don’t get out on a limb.”

    Old voices whip
    the frozen landscape of my heart
    Stirring up
    dry leaves of my failures to please
    into their ritual dance
    of try again and again try

    When will my chillblained heart
    receive the clean crisp cold
    of freedom,
    the power of sparseness,
    As gift?

    Midwinter God,
    rake up my leaves
    quiet the wind
    whisper Your own breath
    in my dead-winter ears

  2. Etchings

    the reach of trees scratch and shiver
    in the whimper and twist of wind
    (memories of leaves softened to color and shade,
    oh, yes! and a promise of return)
    remind us of the justification of shadows

    these bones of winter chafe
    a scrambled repentance braced against gray and white
    this is a prayer, a catch in the throat,
    a breath through the cold
    a sigh, a vapor
    and a ragged

  3. the dog and I step into the silence
    of before light
    he takes a deep breath –
    the scent of winter visible
    in his joy

    the moon is a fingernail of light

    the bony fingers
    of the walnut tree seem
    stitched into the prospect of the sky

    our little corner of earth’s
    fallow. dormant. resting. bare.

    there is a holiness
    found in resting

    and a promise of
    being restored

  4. Home

    It’s 2 degrees outside
    the snow is 4 feet deep
    there are only 5 hours of daylight
    and it is a cozy 70 degrees inside my house.
    Why would i go out?

    I am inexorably drawn Out
    into the frozen landscape
    Where the only sound I hear
    is the in and out
    of my own cold breath
    and the occasional trill of a songbird
    exuberant enough
    to brave the extreme cold.

    Where the trees
    lift their unladen arms into
    the heavy gray sky
    and reach their roots down deep
    to stand straight and firm
    through the long dark.

    Where beneath the snow
    and the hardened ground
    so much lies buried,
    sleeping away the long winter,
    the heartbeat of the earth slowed ,
    the energy contained and conserved
    yet intensely vital.

    It is here in the season of
    dark and cold
    that my heart expands,
    flinging its doors wide open
    to invite the whole world in.

    I am at Home
    In Winter.

  5. A Terzanelle for Trees:

    The trees that lift their branches to the sky
    in January’s spareness, neat and cold
    call out the aching, universal cry.

    The trees and I: we are all growing old.
    We twist and reach for Heaven: God exposed
    in January’s spareness, neat and cold.

    Know this: each living thing is thus composed.
    We are a framework knit round sacred void.
    We twist and reach for Heaven, God, exposed.

    And if by grace we see our lives employed
    in opening the Mystery of each day?
    We are a framework knit round sacred void.

    We are all vessels. Wrought of flesh, bark, clay,
    for God alone we long. Lord, fill us now
    in opening the Mystery of each day.

    Thus seeks my soul, that bird, each person proud,
    the trees that lift their branches to the sky:
    for God alone we long. Lord, fill us now!
    Call out the aching, universal cry.


    the world is so dark
    so grey, so gloomy.
    is it possible to write
    of beauty, love,
    magic, alchemy,
    rich, orange,
    golden, glowing,

    in response,
    you paint me skies of midwinter:
    soft peachy apricots
    a palette of moonlight blues
    red gold burning on the galloway skyline
    pinks, purples, mauves exploding in a
    fever by my door.

    you scratch words with barebone branches
    ‘gainst the canvas of midwinter
    asking softly, irresistible:
    is it possible not to?

  7. strength in your core
    open in your slumber
    light persists to unfurl
    shadows lace snow
    strong enough to bend
    fragile with waiting
    branches kiss ground

  8. Winter Icon

    Clouds held in sky and empty branch
    Framing an icon of stillness in heaven’s dome
    That whispers of remembrances yet unborn
    In the alabaster halls of winter’s womb
    Unbroken snow holds both beginning and end
    Where blue air dances with frosted breath
    Forming words of crystal through which to speak
    All these things I wish I knew.

  9. winter calls me
    beckons with her bare branches

    in a timeshifting moment
    from a few months ahead

    reminding me to hold on
    during the heat of summer

    for this too shall pass
    and soon cool will prevail

    and my soul will be