One of the coldest adventures of my life was visiting Stonehenge in the winter while traveling with fellow team members. We didn’t want to miss this monumental encounter, but we were woefully and inadequately layered for freezing wet wind. So we literally ran around the circle of stones, grabbed a quickly cooling cup of hot chocolate and headed back to the warmth of the van. The shared misery and accompanying laughter of the invigorating and terrible experience turned into gratitude for companionship in lessons learned along the way.
Thriving in winter has involved a process of grieving the loss of warmth and light while transitioning into a period of gratitude for its hibernating rest and invigorating cold. In order to survive our communal experience of “wintering” through this pandemic season, we must be attentive to our spiritual well-being. On Being host Krista Tippett talked with author Katherine May this week about her book Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times:
May describes “Wintering” as a fallow period in life when you are cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress…Perhaps it results from an illness or a life event…perhaps it comes from humiliation or failure. Perhaps you are in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds. Some wintering creeps upon us more slowly, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of caring responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden like discovering your skills are obsolete, the company you work for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with somebody new. However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.
As you read this description, how do you relate to “wintering” in your current experiences? What pain does it bring to the surface?
Unfortunately, the cold and dark of the season can bring unhappiness and gloom that Katherine May leads us to embrace together in this passage from Wintering:
I’m beginning to think that unhappiness is one of the simple things in life: a pure, basic emotion to be respected, if not savored. I’d never dream of suggesting that we should wallow in misery or shrink from doing everything we can to alleviate it, but I do think it’s instructive. After all, unhappiness has a function: it tells us that something is going wrong.
“Sometimes the best response to our howls of anguish is the honest one. We need friends who wince along with our pain, who tolerate our gloom, and who allow us to be weak for a while, while we’re finding our feet again. We need people who acknowledge that we can’t always hang on. That sometimes everything breaks. Short of that, we need to perform those functions for ourselves: to give ourselves a break when we need it and to be kind, to find our own grit in our own time.”
Have you done any howling in anguish lately? Who has been a friend who has allowed you to be weak? Do you give yourself the kindness of a needed break?
At the darkest hour before his betrayal, Jesus reached out to his three closest friends saying, “My soul is crushed with sadness to the point of death. Stay here…stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38 TLB)
WINTER PRACTICE. Soul Friendship. In the company of others, we journey through every season of life, learning to tell the truth about ourselves with vulnerability and the accountability of giving and receiving love.
A Soul friend is someone who listens deeply and prayerfully to help you notice where God is present in your ordinary life circumstances. The friendship is a safe and healing place to be attentive together to the movement of the Spirit. It is important to establish the expectations and intentionality of walking alongside another in the spiritual journey. Often the connection is only for a season of discernment, grief, or growth.
We can also ask for God’s gift of these “spiritual shepherds,” those who nourish us with truth and listening hearts:
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15
Have you ever thought, “I wish I could share this with someone?” Be intentional and ask a soul friend to help you soften and lengthen the edges of your faith. If you have grown distant with a soul friend, re-connect. If you don’t have this person, reach out. Whatever your Covid circumstances, try for face to face connection by finding a safe outdoor space to do your howling!
WINTER PRACTICE. Gratitude. Today I received a snail mail, hand written thank you card from a young minister I support. Her gratitude was goodness gold as Galatians 6:6 says, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.”
Take some time to jot down a brief description or outline of your spiritual path —the helpers, the hindrances, the joys, the disappointments. As you remember soul friends or mentors in your life, now take time to express gratitude to those who have been companions along the way. Surprise someone with a hand-written card or have a special treat delivered to their door. This can and should include ministers and those who serve your family and community, especially in these challenging times.
What are some tangible ways you can express gratitude to those who speak truth into your life, or offer healing companionship?
In days of unhappiness or gloom, how can you practice gratitude for God’s gifts of goodness and kindness?
BREATH PRAYER. You fill my life with good things.
Inhale: You fill my life. Exhale: With good things.
Bless the Lord, O my Soul…I must not forget to be grateful to God, who forgives, heals, redeems, crowns and satisfies me with goodness.” (Psalm 103)