Winter has officially arrived in the Northern hemisphere but for the past several years I hardly paid much attention to it because I have been living in Southern California, a place where a change of seasons isn't all that apparent - this is especially true out in the desert where we now live. The forecast for today is,"sunny and warm."
Usually when I write this daily blog post I am looking out at the desert wilderness outside our home, but yesterday we came back "East" to celebrate the Christmas holidays with our family. The morning is crisp and cold, I've had to get used to wearing coats and gloves again, to see my breath in the frosty air Yes, indeed, for the first time in many years I am very aware that winter has arrived.
Today I have been thinking about what winter has to teach about the spiritual life, and in some sense I have come to realize that "winter" may in fact be the perfect icon of what the spiritual journey is all about regardless of whatever path we may be on.
Many times we think of our spirituality as a comfortable old security blanket that we can cling to from time to time, providing glib and easy answers to the great mysteries and ambiguous complexities of life. Say a few prayers, go to church or temple from time to time and visit with "God," sit on a meditation or yoga mat for a half hour of mindfulness. It's all very comforting, like resting in a jacuzzi or sitting under a shade tree on a summer's day sipping a glass of lemonade.
But the winter season offers me an entirely different perspective about what a spiritual journey is all about. Now that I am experiencing this season first-hand, I realize that this is not a particularly easy or comfortable season. It's hard to negotiate through the ice and cold, the long dark nights make it hard to see the way, and from my experience the spiritual journey is often far more like winter than the laid back easy summer months.
"God" is a Great Mystery who can never be explained with "easy to come by" answers and reliable explanations. Sometimes the spiritual journey offers light on the path, but there is often much darkness that makes it hard to see the way. We get sick, we have doubts and fears, loved ones die, we fall out of love, we make mistakes and more often than not life doesn't always live up to what we expect it to be. Life is filled with ambiguity and it's often hard to make your way around all the ice and cold of everyday living.
Saint John of the Cross once said:
If you would walk along a spiritual path
you have to learn how to walk in darkness.
Now that I have become re-acquainted with this winter season, I have come to appreciate how walking the spiritual path is indeed a walk in the cold and in the dark.
In this season we all seem to "huddle" together more than at any other time of the year. In the past few days I have come to realize just how good it feels to come in out of the darkness and the cold and huddle together around a brightly lit Christmas tree, to huddle together at a blazing hearth, to huddle together around a table as we share and recall our memories. And it is precisely in gathering close to one another that we find a deeper peace and experience the truth of an abiding Holy Presence, and so even though we walk in the dark we have no fear of the night.
There is no deeper "Love" than winter love.