Summer’s Winter

As someone who grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, you know that there’s something very unique about the winter.  For one thing, it seems to last forever, grey skies linger, snow cannot be ruled out until well into Spring, and maybe more than anything, there’s a different feel to the season, in the way the wind blows and even howls, biting through layers of clothing to the depths of your bones, chilling every part of your body.

It’s not quite as noticeable in the other seasons, when leaves fill the trees, but during the winter there is a unique feel and sound to the wind’s wailing.  There seems to be a hollow and even haunting sound to the pines and evergreens, the perennials that manage to survive the stiffness of winter and withstand the mark of death brought on by the season.  It’s a sound that reminds you that the dog days of summer are all but a memory and the sting of winter has seemingly found its day.

As I sat atop Flying Mountain in Acadia National Park today, I was reminded of that wind.  This far north and the extent of the winter season, leaves its marked presence by a sea of evergreens and pine trees filling the top of the mountain and not much else.  As a matter of fact, it’s as if the ground cannot even handle much more than that, when walking along it feels as if the ground beneath is hollow, roots exposed to the surface, creating an obstacle for even the most avid hiker.  There was, though, that wind and the haunting sound.  Interiorly I recalled the days of winter past in the mountains while my body reminded me that we’re at the height of summer season, a seemingly contradiction taking place within and around me.

For a moment, I thought maybe it’s winters way of reminding us that it’s never fully gone, that atop the beauty of summer below, winter awaits its turn, never separated from the warmth of summer life but simply receded to another day, blowing where it will and knowing at some point a necessary transition will take place in order for more growth to bloom.

All too often we try to separate life from its partner, death.  We try to separate anything that we fear or have a disdain for, not necessarily because we don’t know it’s a part of who we are, but rather, a lie we convince ourselves of, that it’s something for another day and another moment.  There’s a house that sits down below on Somes Sound, which is noticeable from Flying Mountain, being the only home along the shore.  The only trees around it protect it from the water, lined along that shore.  When winter knocks, though, not even a longstanding perennial has the whereabouts to stop and prevent what seems to rock what we have protected, cherished, most valued in our lives, trying to weather the storms that seem to haunt us at times during life, like that winter wind that remains atop that mountain.

Summer doesn’t seem to mind that it’s there.  It seems to go about its business as the wind continues to howl above.  Somehow they know they work in tandem with one another, almost instantly, the seasons of life and death dance with one another, each leading the way for the other.  Sometimes the harshest of times are when they try to hold on too long, well aware of their impending future, wreaking havoc on the life cycle.  But don’t we all?  We seem to love Fall and Spring.  They seem to come upon us so gradually and before we know it, we’re sideswiped by change we knew was coming and yet told ourselves, it’s for another day and another moment.  It’s what we tell ourselves as a way to linger, hold onto what we loved but no longer is.  How summer and winter do it will always remain a mystery, so much unseen and non-rational, bending and stretching the mind to something that lies beyond it and yet so much a part of it.  The howling winter wind has a way of reminding us of that, even on a mild summer day.

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Winter’s Tight Fist

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It’s been hard to take at times, the tight fist of winter.  It seems like with every reprieve that comes, a taste of spring, winter comes with greater force and vengeance.  Yet, even with the sun’s angle growing in the sky and days getting longer, there’s something comforting about winter’s solace.  There’s something about hunkering down and hibernating in our own way that, as much as we want it to end, we still hang onto it.  We complain about it’s wrath.  We question why it continues.  We wonder if we could ever get out of bed in the morning, in all his darkness, winter hangs tight.  Even in anticipation of light and life, with melting snow and the passing of days, we hold back from accepting winter as a part of life’s cycle, as a part of God’s plan for creation to wait with patience for life, not on our terms or in our time, but not until spring is ready, not until winter tries to give his last laugh and his own gasp for life.

So true of our own spiritual life and the ongoing tension of life and death, of winter and the spring of our lives, our own spring awakening.  We too get comfortable with the dark, the cold, the death, and as much as we say we fear death, our lives often say that what we fear more is not death but life.  Like winter’s tight fist, we tighten up and hold onto all that holds back life.  We hold onto all that keeps spring from happening.  Yet, God is patient with it all and buries the roots deeper for life so that when we finally accept the winter of our own lives and spring begins to take shape, it will bear greater fruit.

Maybe we haven’t been slowed enough by winter?  Maybe we keep fighting it?  What we fight is so often our denial of the winter of life, wanting the forever spring where life always abounds; yet, there is great value in winter, not only for nature and her course, but for the mystery that we call life.  Without death, we remain tight fisted.  Without death we want control.  Without winter we try to direct our own path toward salvation, life, resurrection.  Without death there isn’t much life; the two go hand-in-hand.  Without winter, spring loses its pop.

In these late winter days when we have grown weary of all that winter brings, we can begin to feel the tug within for change, for life.  We can begin to feel the pains of giving birth to life, to buds breaking forth.  In these late winter days we are called to accept winter as part of the mystery we live, not as our enemy or something to avoid and leave, but rather an invitation to allow the roots to go deep, to be buried in the fertile soil that God has been preparing these weeks and months.  At that moment of surrender and that moment of acceptance spring, with all its glory will erupt within and around our midst, regardless of what the calendar may read, and most certainly, regardless of what it looks like and feels like outside our door.