Senior editor David Morris shares his thought on the slower pace of the winter months and the feelings of groundedness, authenticity and true joy they offer.
Now that winter is kicking in where I live here in the northeast, when I come home from work at night in the dark cold, all I want to do is stop moving and hibernate somewhere warm.
Regardless of my desire to push forward in some direction of accomplishment and progress, it’s a slowing down time of year. Movement is restricted by the extra clothes you wear, outdoor activity comes to a near halt, and the precious few hours of daylight every day give way to long nights of darkness. So when I saw my copy of Martin Marty’s 1983 book (still in print) A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart on my bookshelf, I naturally thought, of course, to give it a look.
Martin Marty is a big fan of winter, not so much the season, but what he calls “the winter of the heart”. See also, for example, his The Promise of Winter: Quickening the Spirit on Ordinary Days and in Fallow Seasons, a gorgeous photography-driven book created with his photographer son Micah Marty. A Cry of Absence starts off with a defense of the spirit of the quiet, retreating, slow-to-get-excited heart. In contrast to the summery disposition which is exuberant, positive, constantly seeking and professing a spiritual high, the wintry soul isn’t afraid to inhabit loneliness, suffering, and struggle.
At Guideposts, we often focus on the positive side of life, that is, taking the challenges of our lives and seeing within them the spiritual truth and hope that can carry us through. Some people have wondered about us offering only that superficial summery spirituality that has no room for the suffering of the Cross that is the gospel message.There’s some truth to that criticism—we’re human after all. But it’s also a criticism I’d leverage against a great deal of American Christianity, which tends to underachieve in the winter of the soul category, at least in coming right out and embracing it, tending to it and understanding it.
There’s a depth there in the wintry soul. A groundedness and authenticity that is somehow connected to true joy. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Both phrases we attribute to Jesus. There’s also this, one of my favorite quotes from the book of James:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:8-10, NIV)
So which soul are you? Summery or wintry? Could it be also that you see yourself as both? Perhaps it depends on the season, the company in which you find yourself, the defeats or the victories you are experiencing, the rest you’ve had or the lack thereof. Can’t we pursue both the joy and victory of our faith but bear within it and not deny grief and tragedy? Doesn’t the experience of hope often arrive out of the despair of hardship and toil?
As you face the winter months, it’s a good time to consider also the winter of the soul. Slow things down. Pay attention to what you would cry for. Wait, don’t act, and see what happens.