A February Face

“Why, what’s the matter, 
That you have such a February face, 
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?” 
–  William Shakespeare,  Much Ado About Nothing

February never fails to be seductive,  teasing of spring on a bright sunny day and the next day all hope is dashed by a frosty wind cutting through layers of clothing.  There is a hint of green in the pastures but the deepening mud is sucking at our boots.  The snowdrops and crocus are up and blooming, but the brown leaves from last summer still cling tenaciously to oak branches, appearing as if they will never ever let go to make room for a new leaf crop.

A February face is tear-streaked and weepy, winter weary and spring hungry.  Thank goodness it is a short month or we’d never survive the glumminess of a month that can’t quite decide whether it is done with us or not.

So much ado.
So much nothing.
So much anything that becomes everything.

So Very Sublime

In a dry wind like this, snow and ice can pass directly into the air as a gas without having first melted to water.  This process is called sublimation; tonight the snow in the yard and the ice in the creek sublime.  A breeze buffets my palm held a foot from the wall.  A wind like this does my breathing for me: it engenders something quick and kicking in my lungs.  Pliny believed the mares of the Portuguese used to raise their tails to the wind, ‘and turn them full against it, and so conceive that genital air instead of natural seed; in such sort, as they become great withal, and quicken in their time, and bring forth foals as swift as the wind…’.

A single cell quivers at a windy embrace; it swells and splits, it bubbles into a raspberry; a dark clot starts to throb.  Soon something perfect is born. Something wholly new rides the wind, something fleet and fleeting I’m likely to miss.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Whenever we have a blowing northeaster, I assumed that our snow simply blew southwest and we were left with nothing but a skiff of white here. But I was wrong. The snow and ice are sublimated, disappearing into the air as vapor.

I wish I could be so transformed, blown into something wholly new and free, not tethered and earth-bound.

Our Creator God does just that: we are so very sublime through the power of His breath.

The Bitter Cold

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion. To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from an essay on the cold of winter in
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season

 

We’re in the midst of a string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies while a nor’easter sends the windchill plummeting. 

Even though it is often called the “Arctic Express” it is not nearly the cold of the midwest plains or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

The cold that descends from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, pull down power lines and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our nation is in such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided.  If we all together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.  

It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we  generate heat, even if we can’t seem to lighten up.

What Comes Behind the Crocus

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This is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.

…To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that.  Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale.  A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’  in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’

Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.

The spring comes slowly down the way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.  There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.

We can. 

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on…to which He is calling us.

It remains with us whether to follow or not,  to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C. S. Lewis from “God in the Dock”

 

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You, who are beyond our understanding,
have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.
You, who are the uncreated God,
have made yourself a creature for us.
You, who are the untouchable One,
have made yourself touchable to us.
You, who are most high,
make us capable of understanding your amazing love
and the wonderful things you have done for us.
Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation,
the mystery of your life, example and doctrine,
the mystery of your cross and passion,
the mystery of your resurrection and ascension.
~Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)– prayer

 

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My husband, with help from our neighbor kids and our son who was visiting for Christmas, has prepared soil beds on our farm and planted hundreds of spring bulbs, including over two hundred crocus.  We are called to this action, especially in the midst of winter – to plan for, to anticipate, to long for the spring that is coming.  We become part of the promise that winter is not forever.

The larger bulbs – the tulip, the daffodils – have no choice but to respond to spring – the expanding light calls to them as the soil begins to warm.  But the crocus are a mystery, sprouting earlier when there is no reason to.  Snow is still on the ground.  Frost still crisps everything at night.  Yet they come forth from the soil even when everything is still weeping winter.

What comes behind the crocus?

We too rise up from the dark to enter the light.
We too are part of the mystery.

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An Advent Paradox: Not Only Glad Tidings

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Was certainly not winter, scholars say,
When holy habitation broke the chill
Of hearth-felt separation, icy still,
The love of life in man that Christmas day.
Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true;
When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze,
And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways,
While settling silence speaks of solitude.
Hope happens when conditions are as these; 
Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin,
When deep’ning dark demands its full display.
Then fallen nature driven to her knees
Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within,
And brush burns brighter for the growing grey.
~David Baird “Autumn”

 

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We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Watch for the Light

 

 

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The shepherds were sore afraid.   Why aren’t we?
The reds and oranges of autumn are fading fast as we descend into winter this week.  Murderous frosts have wilted down all that was flush with life.

The babe has come like a refiner’s fire and we who have gotten too comfortable will feel the heat in the middle of the chill.

Hope happens when conditions are as these…

 

 

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Deep in the cold of winter,
Darkness and silence were eve’rywhere;
Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness a wonderful sound,
A wonderful sound to hear.

All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Sounding in majesty the news that they bring;
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth, a heavenly King.
All bells in paradise, I heard them ring,
‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.

Lost in awe and wonder,
Doubting I asked what this sign may be;
Christ, our Messiah, revealed in a stable,
A marvelous sight, a marvelous sight to see.

Chorus

He comes down in peace,
A child in humility,
The keys to his kingdom belong to the poor;
Before him shall kneel the kings with their treasures,
Gold, incense, and myrrh.

Chorus
~John Rutter “All Bells in Paradise”

Partly Cloudy with Sun Breaks

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When it snows, he stands
at the back door or wanders
around the house to each
window in turn and
watches the weather
like a lover. O farm boy,
I waited years
for you to look at me
that way. Now we’re old
enough to stop waiting
for random looks or touches
or words, so I find myself
watching you watching
the weather, and we wait
together to discover
whatever the sky might bring.
~Patricia Traxler “Weather Man”
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My farm boy does still look at me that way,
wondering if today will bring
frost,
a wind storm,
maybe fog or mist,
a scorcher,
or a deluge.
I reassure him as best I can,
because he knows me so well
in our many years together:
today, like most other days
will be partly cloudy with showers
and occasional sun breaks.
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The Dying of the Year

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Now winter downs the dying of the year,   
And night is all a settlement of snow; 
From the soft street the rooms of houses show   
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,   
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin   
And still allows some stirring down within. 
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   
We fray into the future, rarely wrought 
Save in the tapestries of afterthought. 
More time, more time. Barrages of applause   
Come muffled from a buried radio. 
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
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The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.
~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”

 

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These dark, icy,  and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.

There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great.  Howling wind knocks and batters, freezing rain beats mercilessly at the window panes to coat everything with a 1/4 inch of ice,  puddles stand deeper than they appear, mud sucks off boots, leaves are thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.

We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm.  Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.

That never happens here in the Pacific northwest.

We celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledge this encompassing darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live within such a paradox:  there is, after all, a certain gladness in our sadness.

 

 

 

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