What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him. ~Frederick Buechner from Secrets in the Dark
With the turn toward winter is the disappearance of the familiar world, of all that grows and thrives, of color and freshness, of hope in survival. Then there comes a moment of softness amid the bleak, a gift of grace and beauty, a glance of sunlight on a snowy hillside, a covering of low cloud puffs in the valley, a moon lit landscape, and I know the known world is still within my grasp because you have hold of me.
Heaven could not hold God. It is beyond my wildest hope He chose to dwell here, among us and within us. Imagine that.
Snow is falling today and more wind is forecast tomorrow.
It is a cold wind, whether coming from the north, chilling our bones as various weather fronts meet and clash overhead and we feel dumped on.
Another cold wind of reality is blowing through America right now as well, and not just on our farm.
There is considerable turmoil as Americans struggle with the increased need to “pay as you go” rather than “borrow for what you desire”. The debt load for young adults is climbing, especially student loans and mortgages. Fewer older people have any significant savings for retirement.
Our parents were Great-Depression era children, so my husband and I heard plenty of stories convincing us never to reach beyond our means. My grandmother moved her three young children 20 miles away from home in order to cook morning, noon and night in a large boarding house, grateful for the work that allowed her to feed her family. It also meant separation from their jobless, depressed and often intoxicated father for weeks at a time. She told stories of making sandwiches to feed hobos who knocked on the kitchen door, hoping for a hand out, and after sitting briefly on the back steps eating what she could offer from left over scraps, they would be on their way again, walking on down the muddy road, hoping somewhere farther along there may be another handout or perhaps a day’s work. Even in her time of trouble, my grandmother could find blessing in the fact she and her children had a roof over their heads, beds to sleep in (all in one room) and food to fill their stomachs. There were always people worse off and she wasn’t one of them.
My grandmother never lived comfortably, by her own choice, after that experience. She could never trust that tomorrow things would be as plentiful as today, so she rarely rested, never borrowed, always saved even the tiniest scrap of food, of cloth, of wood, as it could always prove useful someday. My father learned from those uncertain days of his childhood and never borrowed to buy a car or a piece of furniture or an appliance. It had to be cash, or it was simply not his to purchase, so he never coveted what he did not have money to buy outright.
So we, the next generation, were raised that way. Even so, borrowing began with loans for college but still working three jobs while maintaining good grades. But then there was borrowing for that first care and to buy a house.
But with grandma’s and dad’s stories fresh in our minds, we knew we couldn’t start that slippery slope of borrowing to take vacations or buy the latest and greatest stuff or build the bigger house. So we didn’t.
We have lived simply, driving our vehicles past 200,000 miles, continuing to harvest and preserve from the garden, using our appliances past the 25 year mark. And we’ve been content and happy.
Happiness isn’t stuff. It isn’t big houses. It isn’t brand new cars or the latest gadgets.
It’s being under the same roof as a family, striving together and loving each other. It is taking care of friends when they need help. It is reaching out to the stranger in our midst who has less than we have.
The wind is pointing us back to the values we had long forgotten as we got much too comfortable. It takes a storm to find that true contentment can rest only within our hearts.
The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion. To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates. ~John Updike from an essay on the cold of winter in Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
We’re in the midst of a string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies while a nor’easter sends the windchill plummeting.
Even though it is often called the “Arctic Express” it is not nearly the cold of the midwest plains or the Alaskan frontier. This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats. It is just not seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.
The cold that descends from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, pull down power lines and freeze pipes not left dripping. It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.
A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival. It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.
Our nation is in such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided. If we all together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.
It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are. At least we generate heat, even if we can’t seem to lighten up.
This is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.
…To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’
Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.
The spring comes slowly down the way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.
We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on…to which He is calling us.
It remains with us whether to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C. S. Lewis from “God in the Dock”
You, who are beyond our understanding,
have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.
You, who are the uncreated God,
have made yourself a creature for us.
You, who are the untouchable One,
have made yourself touchable to us.
You, who are most high,
make us capable of understanding your amazing love
and the wonderful things you have done for us.
Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation,
the mystery of your life, example and doctrine,
the mystery of your cross and passion,
the mystery of your resurrection and ascension.
~Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)– prayer
My husband, with help from our neighbor kids and our son who was visiting for Christmas, has prepared soil beds on our farm and planted hundreds of spring bulbs, including over two hundred crocus. We are called to this action, especially in the midst of winter – to plan for, to anticipate, to long for the spring that is coming. We become part of the promise that winter is not forever.
The larger bulbs – the tulip, the daffodils – have no choice but to respond to spring – the expanding light calls to them as the soil begins to warm. But the crocus are a mystery, sprouting earlier when there is no reason to. Snow is still on the ground. Frost still crisps everything at night. Yet they come forth from the soil even when everything is still weeping winter.
What comes behind the crocus?
We too rise up from the dark to enter the light.
We too are part of the mystery.
Praise the wet snow falling early. Praise the shadow my neighbor’s chimney casts on the tile roof even this gray October day that should, they say, have been golden. Praise the invisible sun burning beyond the white cold sky, giving us light and the chimney’s shadow. Praise god or the gods, the unknown, that which imagined us, which stays our hand, our murderous hand, and gives us still, in the shadow of death, our daily life, and the dream still of goodwill, of peace on earth. Praise flow and change, night and the pulse of day. ~Denise Levertov from “Gloria”, an excerpt from Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus
Yes. It is true.
Our murderous hand
is not stayed nearly enough.
We continue to witness the deaths of innocents,
so many homeless cast aside,
and what to do for refugees seeking sanctuary
who may not believe as we do,
who do not look or talk or act like
We are not them. They are not us.
But all image bearers.
Yet shadows are cast on the grayest of days
only because there is light still there,
hidden though it may be.
Be illuminated by mercy without the shadow cast.
Be stilled by the pulse of life in others who are not us.
What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him. ~Frederick Buechner
Within this day of early winter
is disappearance of the familiar world,
of all that grows and thrives,
of color and freshness,
of hope in survival.
Then there comes a moment of softness amid the bleak,
a gift of grace and beauty,
a glance of sunlight on a snowy hillside,
a covering of low cloud puffs in the valley,
a moon lit landscape,
and I know the known world is still within my grasp
because you have hold of me.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day, Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay; Enough for Him, whom angels fall before, The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give Him my heart. ~Christina Rossetti 1872