Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Blessedness of Winter

My "word of the year" this year is "Plow," and I wrote here about some of the ways that this was a metaphor for my goals this year; to pay attention to rhythms and seasons, notice the holy in the ordinary, to look and live beneath the surface . . . to avoid wasting time, be deliberate and unhurried . . . cultivate quiet, live with vision, etc.  . . .  and so I have sensed this coming on, sensed this frail part in me calling weakly to be still and quiet, to disconnect.

I have been reading Richard Foster's book "Prayer" with our church and am enjoying it immensely.  This week the chapter on Formation Prayer was especially powerful, and the section on The Little Way and The Communion of Solitude especially struck me;
"Without solitude it is impossible to live a spiritual life." (Henri Nouwen)  The reason for this is simple to see: by means of solitude God frees us from our bondage to people and our own inner compulsions. . . The less we are mesmerized by human voices, the more we are able to hear the Divine Voice.  The less we are manipulated by the expectations of others, the more we are open to the expectations of God.
I fell asleep last night aware that God was asking me to set myself free from my "bondage to people and my own inner compulsions" . .. for me this is in the form of my online habits; facebook, Pinterest, and most of my online surfing for information.

My protests sound like this:

"But I can keep in touch with people I care about on facebook; I can rejoice with them and weep with them, I can know what I need to pray for someone."  . ..  But what if I simply submitted myself to praying instantly for whomever the Lord brings to mind?  (like they did in the olden days *grin) What if I was intentional about writing to encourage people rather than a passive "like" of their status update?

"I get tons of ideas online, it makes me a better mother and homemaker."  . . . But I also am overwhelmed by all of the ideas I find, what if I simply focus on my home and complete the ideas I already have?

"I use the internet constantly for news and information."  . . . I will be reasonable, if I need information that I can't find anywhere else I will look for it on the internet, but so much information can also cause confusion and disharmony.  What if I try first reading printed words and seeking the still small voice of the Spirit rather than consulting so many opinions online?

This morning what I read in Foster's book confirmed what I had been thinking;

The Blessedness of Winter
As winter approaches each year, I like to watch our large maple in the backyard begin to lose its covering of summer green and take on a funereal brown.  As the leaves drop, one by one all of the irregularities and defects of the tree are exposed.  The imperfections are always there, of course, but they have been hidden from my view by an emerald blanket.  Now, however, it is denuded and desolate, and I can see its real condition. 
Winter preserves and strengthens a tree.  Rather than expending its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth.  Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish. 
Instantly you see the application.  So often we hide our true condition with the surface virtues of pious activity, but, once the leaves of our frantic pace drop away, the transforming power of a wintery spirituality can have effect. 
To the outward eye everything looks barren and unsightly.  Our many defects, flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections stand out in bold relief.  But only the outward virtues have collapsed; the principle of virtue is actually being strengthened.  The soul is venturing forth into the interior.  Real, solid, enduring virtues begin to develop deep within.  Pure love is birthed.
I am looking forward to a season of stillness, to focus on my family and to devote more time to writing. I will continue to check email and update this blog occasionally, and my plan is to allow myself a couple hours one day a week, probably Saturdays, for blog reading and Pinterest, so I will be enjoying your blogs occasionally as well.

It is a dark, blustery day today, the leaves on the tree outside my window all blew off during the night; this used to feel like sadness to me but today I see the hope in those stark, barren branches.  Truly there is a blessedness of winter!


camilla said...

Foster's imagery really resonates with me. I'm not quite ready to join with you. But it's not a thought I am going to be able to walk away from easily. Thank you for sharing a part of your spiritual journey.

Amy said...

I am pretty certain that I could become a cloistered nun..I love and appreciated just what being still and quiet can do for your mind, body and soul. Lately I have been thinking the same thing...need to quiet down, slow down and listen. Thank God for the change of seasons that remind me to do this!

Ashley said...

This is extremely timely for me Jess. The past couple of weeks I have been struggling with the Lord and telling him I am having a hard time hearing him... being quiet and just resting in life. I think I am addicted to the thrill of accomplishing, even just being "better" than I am now in any capacity (mommy, wife, cook, homemaker, teacher). And while I don't think that in itself is bad, I think it creates a mentality that is overwhelming to me and then of course my family. Last night I feel like he brought to my attention that my life is full of other voices, other ideas that drown his out. This will undoubtedly lead me to step away from my computer at some point in the near future, but I am still working out how this will look...not wanting to "accomplish" something else and create legalism. My protests are sooo similar to yours, especially with the added bonus of moving, I feel social networking keeps me involved with people I miss. There's always an excuse for everything, right? ;) But what I do know is that the convenience of the internet isn't fulfilling to my soul, but the time I spend enjoying my babes and what I already see around me is... ya know? Anyways, just wanted to share that I am with you on this. Praying for you to find joy and quiet in even the loudest moments of your day, sweet friend.

Joyce Ray said...

Thanks for Foster's reminder that "winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish." Part of deepening spirituality for me is choosing nourishing book companions. Prayer sounds like such a book. Thank you. I also love the Mary Oliver poem and quote.

Fijufic said...

Nice spin on winter. I do other things in the winter while waiting for summer to return. Still I do enjoy the weather even though I am not swimming....

Janet said...

We just spent a week away (our delayed summer vacation), and I was computerless. We've been back for... this will be day 2, and I find myself very reluctant to begin blogging again. Something in me came alive, even in that short time away.

All of which is to say, I admire your decision and may be making a similar one in these days.

Misha Leigh. said...

Ive already read this more than once- and will be back again. Thank you.