NOTE: I wrote this meditation over thirty years ago…only now am I beginning to understand it.

The Rev’d. Susan Creighton, Anchorite

Winter is an odd time to begin anything: we think of it as the last of the Four Seasons; as a metaphor for the closing years of a long life; as a time of hibernation, stillness, and death. And as we ourselves approach this time of year, or time of life, we may find we would rather hearken back to the newness and hopefulness of Spring, to the exuberance of Summer, to the glorious abundance of Autumn. Ah, those gaudy, golden months of Autumn, when the trees fling themselves into an oblation of color, shouting with all the energy from the summer of their youth: “Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills, and all that grows upon the earth, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”

But the day comes when that shout is muted by the gray shawl of low hanging clouds, slipping round the hills, and bringing soft, tentative rain. Slowly, bolstered by a rush of wind, the rain gathers courage, daring to challenge the riot of color. Where once an occasional leaf floated casually to earth, slow and relaxed as a Sunday driver, now a blizzard of gold and red strips the trees of the last vestiges of life. A vast silence permeates the waiting forest, as final preparations are made for the pall of snow that soon will cloak the ugliness of naked death.

Then one morning we wake to an icy moonlight and know that Winter is upon us. The earth lies still and silent, all sounds muted by the cloak of snow, all life seemingly brought to a standstill: the birds do not sing; the woodchucks lie snug in their burrows; the woodland streams are frozen in their beds. And we find that this awesome stillness penetrates into our own hearts: Winter has entered into us, and into our prayer.

For our life of prayer also has seasons: the tentative Spring of newborn faith, just beginning to hope; the full-blown Summer of certainty and conviction, when we dwell in the full radiance of the Light of God. And of course there is the glorious Autumn of prayer, when we reap the harvest of long seasons of spiritual planting and cultivating; when we move beyond petition to praise; beyond penance to the mature knowledge of the love of God.

Then, as inevitably as the seasons of the earth, comes a time of Winter to our life of prayer, our life in God. Sometimes this spiritual Winter slips upon us almost unnoticed, like the slow shortening of the hours of daylight. Or, it may come to our prayer like the furious gust of a late hurricane, tearing from us all certainty, all fruitfulness, and battering us into a depression and bleakness than can be likened only to death. But whether our Winter comes slowly and unnoticed, or furiously and devastatingly, we at last find ourselves in a place of immense stillness.

The Winter of prayer is a place of grayness, yet with the stark contrasts of icy blackness and brilliant whiteness. Just as the bare skeletons of the trees stand silhouetted against dull gray sky, we find our prayer has become naked and stripped and skeletal. We find no green hope of life in our prayer, let alone any evidence of fruit or mature foliage. We cannot pray, and so we simply say prayers, depending upon the bare bones of the faith of the Church, and the promise of the sacraments to carry us through the death of our own prayer.

Then, slowly, as the Winter wears on, we begin to find comfort in its very stillness, and shelter in the blanket of snow which has brought rest and silence to our prayer. We find that in the silence of this spiritual Winter, we are listening more acutely to the voice of God. And while we feel ourselves frozen into the stillness of Winter, we yet find the Water of Life flowing deep within us, and deep within the bosom of the earth.

As we move more deeply into this Winter, we find that the place of stillness and death has been transformed into one of waiting and rest. As the trees must shed their leaves and draw back their sap to prepare for another season of life and growth, so, too, we must allow our prayer such a Winter. For Winter does not mean that life has departed from the earth, nor has faith departed from our prayer. Rather, it is a time of waiting, and rest, and even of death, in which we pause and prepare for the rebirth of Spring, the renewal and greater growth of the next season of prayer. Winter, as the culmination of the year, and the completion of a life span, is also the beginning of a new cycle of seasons, the beginning of New Life in Christ. Winter brings a time of deep silence to our souls, a silence out of which we can proclaim, “Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, drops of dew and flakes of snow. Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”

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