Monday, January 07, 2013
The Bleak Midwinter
C. S. Lewis marvelously catches a perfect definition of despair when he writes that the fantasy world of Narnia, when it has forgotten about its Christ, is a place where it is “always winter but never Christmas.” Weather-wise, I feel that Christmas comes too early here—right at the start of our real winter rather than smack in the middle of the cold and snow. So when Christmas is over we are still facing months of winter.
A couple of caveats should be made. First, Christmas is a season that actually extends until January 6. In some traditions—Poland, for example—the Christmas decorations stay up all the way until the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 2. Now there’s a dry Christmas tree! Second, winter is beautiful in its way, and is much more enjoyable if one undertakes it with relish by skiing, snowmobiling, sledding and such.
Having said that, though, we must admit that in Central New York, from here on, it seems as though we’re stuck somewhere where it’s always winter and never Christmas. It can be discouraging, especially for the frail ones who know that it’s unwise to try walking on icy sidewalks and parking lots. As I’ve said in previous years, we never cancel Church; however, do not come if it is unsafe to do so.
One of the ways that weather works on our souls is by mirroring our inner state. If we are already feeling gloomy, the dark days of winter can magnify our sadness. If we are questioning God’s goodness, the world without flowers seems to whisper, “God is not good.” When we are burdened with many duties and worried by difficulties, having to slog through slush every day can push us to the breaking point.
This can heal us, and here’s how: Life is hard much of the time; the consolations of this world can never truly set us free; others of God’s servants in our time and in times past have suffered much worse than harsh winter, and God delivered them; our help is not in springtime or in good fortune; our help is in the name of the Lord. As Christians, we are not to fear or push away feelings of sadness or distress or even fear. Roosevelt was wrong: he said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. In fact, fear is a perfectly healthy response to danger. We are not to fear fear. We rather should fear only this: loss of God. So, come and praise God with his Church when you are angry, or sad, or grieving, or stressed, or afraid. The one who came to save us knows our feelings: he is called, after all, the Man of Sorrows. Worship him. Praise him.
A prayer for preservation through life’s ups and downs that you may find especially welcome in winter is seldom used in public worship. It is the Collect for the rare Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany:
Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.