Sustaining Awe in the Dreary Depths of Winter

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by Kevin on January 22, 2012

Awe. Wonder. Gratitude. Amazement. These are all attitudes, ways of approaching the world, that I strive to foster each day. I try to remind myself that there’s always something to be grateful for or stand back and gawk at. You just have to look. And, generally, if I remember to take time to contemplate what’s around me, I find something to be happy about.

Except in winter.

In winter, it’s tough for me to muster up any kind of wonder, awe or gratitude. The best I can usually manage is cynicism or fear. In the darkest days of winter I often question the exact intent of a Creator who invents a season bent on destroying creation. Annually. I mean, really, you put all that work into creating such beauty and then, once a year, you try to blast it out of existence? What’s so Divine about winter? Huh? Tell me? What’s the point of giving us really long days in July only to snatch them away come December? What does it say about your love of creation when you spend three dark months blowing it around, entombing it in ice, and generally making life miserable?

So, yeah, cynicism. And the fear? I dread winter, deep in my bones. The creeping unease begins in August as the days start to noticeably shorten. I’m one of those people who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the growing darkness has a real effect on me. I start to slow down, withdraw, and my mood, like the days, darkens. I range from slightly irritable to all-out grouchy. Yeah, I’m a real treat to be around in winter. I also fear the impact winter will have on my day-to-day life. Will I be able to get around if it snows? Did I wrap my outdoor potted plants up securely enough for them to survive? Will my pipes freeze? Will I wake up one morning to find I’m sharing my bedroom with half of the Garry Oak in my backyard?

So, basically my approach to winter each year is to hunker down and wait it out. Begrudgingly. And not liking it one bit.

Gratitude? Wonder? Awe? Amazement? Talk to me in the spring. Until then, don’t tick me off.

Like I said, I’m an absolute peach in winter.

This year, though, my winter project is to be a little more positive about winter. A few things are prompting that. The first is that I’m tired of feeling like I go to sleep in November and wake up in March and my life all but stops for those months. It’s not a great — or grateful — way to live.

The second is something Joyce Rupp said in a talk I attended this summer. She said, and I’m paraphrasing, that you don’t have to be happy to be grateful. Gratitude may foster a sense of happiness, but it isn’t dependent on it. In fact, a true test of your ability to be grateful is sustaining gratitude when times are truly bleak. And this isn’t the false “well, things could be worse” kind of gratitude. It’s the ability to actively contemplate the world around you and find something that stirs your spirit, even when the rest of your life is falling apart or at least not where you’d like it to be. That takes work, and, admittedly, is a bit beyond me at the moment. But it’s something to strive for, and winter gives me three or four months to practice and build up that muscle.

The third prompt is a story that Larry Edwards told during a recent workshop. Larry tells some amazing stories that integrate the mysteries of creation with current science. In one story, Larry talked about how the seasons came to be. While the Earth was first forming it collided with another, smaller body of rock, dust and other particles. That collision created several things, including the Earth’s core and the Moon. But it also knocked the Earth slightly off its axis, so that it tilts roughly 23 degrees off centre, thereby creating seasons. The tilt means that the positions of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in relation to the Sun change throughout the year. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, it’s summer; away from the Sun, it’s winter. This tilt makes life possible on Earth. It creates a life-sustaining climate. And the seasons are part of that. And, to keep the balance that the tilt provides, we have to have winter if we’re ever going to have summer.

The fourth and final prompt is an awareness that maybe my body is telling me something when it slows down in winter. I tend to get caught up in the day-to-day of life: work, friends, family, and just general busy-ness. This activity and noise can distract me from the rhythms of the Earth, such as seasons. In winter, however, I can’t ignore what’s going on; my whole body is telling me to take notice. So, this winter, I’m going to heed the prompts of my body and slow down a bit, or at least try to tune out distractions a bit more. Perhaps the nasty weather will prompt me to read a bit more or spend more time in prayer. Maybe I’ll work on countering my grouchy mood by taking care of myself a bit better and not burning the candle at both ends. Or, I could work on reconnecting with family and friends so we can make the best of the season together.

In doing this I hope to refocus my attention on what there is to celebrate in winter, and see the season as an opportunity rather than an onerous challenge. I’ll let you know come March how this went.

What about you? How do you sustain wonder, awe, amazement and gratitude in winter?

(Photo credit: bosela. License.)

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