The real long season of winter opens as we “hunker down” for a time of reflection and silence. Even the birds have grown increasingly still in the very dark and cold early mornings when temps are well below freezing here in the mountains and altitudes of the “high desert”.
Regrettably, no real moisture yet and only a few inches of snow in the mountains above. The effects of the long-standing drought are being felt across the whole region as you no doubt have seen in the reports of the prairie fires in Boulder and Louisville, CO. Nonetheless, the stillness that is winter prevails, even though the sun is bright and the skies are clear cobalt blue. It can be deceptive to embrace the sun and its potential warmth when for many days when the air temperature is still below freezing at 2pm.
Janus the two-faced god for whom January is named is emblematic of this season. Past and present impinge on each other as we attempt to move forward with lurching steps and yet are dragged back into the warmth and memories of the past holiday season and the warm autumn and late summer. The old teacher from Ecclesiastes reminds us again and again, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”
In this time of short days and long shadows we are called upon by creation to “settle” a bit and live more quietly than at any time in the year. Obviously we remain attentive and open to emerging new possibilities, but they are nascent thoughts at this point. Winter is empty though it may well be our most productive time when the seeds of new wonder are beginning to germinate and become the robust things we pursue in the spring and summer.
When we are closed in, there is time to wander in our thoughts and even rediscover the art and literature in living in our rooms, which we may ignore throughout the year. But now they are calling us to rediscover and reclaim them. Feeding one’s soul can be both powerful and fulfilling.
Poet May Sarton once described these “things” in our homes, long unnoticed as “familiar gods at home”. I know that each of us have expended a great deal of energy around the holidays and now must come to terms with what’s going on within. In our annual planetary rotation around the sun we are living at the edges of the horizon, with the sun hugging the lowest possible point of the year. Gradually, almost imperceptibly though the sun is sluggishly moving further north each day climbing a wee bit higher in the sky by the equinox in 10 weeks. It seems we now have 15 more minutes of light at the end of the day.
January is the intersection of patience and grace. I hope I have enough to last the season. All of this is to say that winter can be a deep reflective and spiritually vital season for introspection and discernment of many realities. I hope you will get the time and use the energy to do some of this work in this still silent period in our lives; when we can find the much in the little, the precious amidst the dregs. This season offers the possibility of learning to live with much less than we could have imagined just months ago. We are left with spaces for surprise and wonder at the smallest things and tiniest changes. Perhaps that will emerge as gratitude for all that we embrace. Theodore Roethke in 1989 tells it this way: