The Depths of Winter

a cold January day at an old Irish cemetary

a cold January day at an old Irish cemetary

My daughter and I had a recent conversation about “winter music.” As we drove around in my car, I yet again forced her to listen to Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night. She didn’t seem to mind, but was curious why I was still listening to Christmas songs and it was after January 6. (We do observe the full 12 days of Christmas in my home.) I shared that throughout the centuries, people had songs they would sing during the dark, short days of winter, and this was the music Sting honored with his album. That definitely included some tunes about the Christmas story, but winter was broader than just 12 days.

I acknowledge I am like much of our society when I want to skip winter, unless it involves a pretty snow that is easily drivable in a day or two. It seems Christmas is about bringing as much happiness and light into the world as we can, and then we immediately turn to Valentine’s Day where love reigns supreme, and then we immediately skip to swimsuit season. Unless we enjoy winter sports, we try our best to ignore the short, gray days, and the sadness that can often accompany them. When Sting gave interviews about his winter music, he discussed the importance of diving into winter and embracing what it means spiritually. When we just try to survive it – to skitter through in anticipation of bright, sunny days – then we miss an important aspect of life.

In the past couple decades, our society seems to have become more and more obsessed with being happy. The pursuit of happiness appears to take precedence over anything else in our lives. We don’t see the value in things which don’t make us happy. Many years ago I met with my wise spiritual director, Susan, and I can remember telling her that I just wanted to be happy. She responded, “Perhaps wanting to be peaceful might be a better option. Happiness can be superficial, and doesn’t really speak to your soul.”

Peace can only come when we really face the gray days of winter. If we try to ignore those times in our lives, we will not truly know peace. I invite you this winter to observe a full winter. Find times of quiet. Reflect on the purpose of your life. Embrace the darkness, knowing that it will shed light on the easier days. Dive into winter – the cold, the lack of light, the isolation – and look into what your soul says to you. We will definitely appreciate the warmth more fully when it comes, and be able to grasp the deep peace which truly does bring joy into our lives.

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Why I Need Winter

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Winter is not my favorite season – not by a long shot. That honor belongs to Autumn. Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, it would have been a sin not to love the Fall season. Our local economy certainly depended on a good leaf season when the mountains were covered in shades of gold, russet, mauve, canary, burnished copper and every shade in between. As a child, I collected large oak leaves that had softly wafted to the ground, gently carried them to my house, and pressed them in between the pages of a very large book. When I was in 3rd grade, one of Mom’s co-workers gave me the collected works of Shakespeare from her old college days. That book was perfect. As I grew older and opened the book for pleasure reading, I would often find some long forgotten leaf.

 

Once I became a parent, I continued to use that same book for my children to press their own treasured discoveries. Sunny days, cool nights, large harvest moons – what time of year could be better?

 

So while Autumn is my favorite, I have discovered over the years that Winter is a necessity. We usually had a scattered amount of smaller snowfalls throughout the season around Asheville. Occasionally a good foot or more might cover the land, enabling me to forgo school, drink hot chocolate, and read my latest books from the tiny West Asheville library. I loved snow days – what kid doesn’t? And yes, I still long for snow days as an adult. Since I have the pleasure of working at an institution of higher education, those days are not out of the realm of my existence.

 

My family and I moved to the Piedmont of North Carolina a few years back. Snow has been non-existent in recent years. Except for the recent arctic snap, which covered most of the country, even cold weather has been relatively sparse. While this has been great for my heating bill, it’s not been good for my soul. Each spirit needs winter – a time to retreat, to contemplate, to regroup, to break from the headiness of springtime, the heat of the summer, and the joy of autumn. The British artist Sting produced a near perfect CD a couple years ago – If On A Winter’s Night. The songs are a collection of English winter songs. Yes, that does include some Christmas music, but it’s more about the short, dark and dreary days of winter. When interviewed about the music, Sting stated that music was his church. He continued to explain that the soul needs to experience all the seasons – it’s hard to appreciate and truly live the other seasons if we skip over winter.

 

That’s why I need winter. My soul cries out for winter, for the quiet, for the dark, for the stillness. We all need our snow days.