There is no season better than winter — the brisk breeze, the lingering clouds, the dark natural tones, and the frigid temperatures that require layer upon layer of clothing. Winter always seems to draw my mind and spirit into reflection. On this Thanksgiving weekend, it is something I am incredibly grateful for, yet leery of, as well.
As I sit on my parents’ back porch out at Lake Kiowa (my “black rock”, so to speak), with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees with a somewhat strong north wind telling me, “You like the winter, well, here She comes,” I can’t help but notice the season’s implicit reflection of life. To be more specific, the life of Faith.
The life of Faith can be broken down into four distinct, but sometimes overlapping, parts: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Spring is the time when your faith is growing and new. God’s revealed nature becomes known to you in some new and fascinating way. Most likely, you have heard this beautiful truth before, but for one reason or another, the seed never planted firmly in your soul until this moment. The Holy Spirit, to your utter surprise, continues to refresh your soul with these “new” truths. Praise and thanksgiving burst forth from your heart in the same way a flower blooms under the cool, but not cold, beautifully bright, blue sky.
Next comes Summer. With Summer, comes the active participation of the truths revealed to you in the Spring. The transformation of the soul in the Spring now overflows and becomes an outpouring to others. During this time, you are more than likely not even thinking about the truths you learned. Your entire focus has shifted away from the union between yourself and God to the union between others and God. This shift occurs subconsciously. Bonhoeffer refers to this state as a “hidden righteousness.” It is hidden from yourself but completely revealed to those around you. By the grace of God, your natural self has been denied and the cross of Christ rests lightly upon on your shoulders.
But as we know, the glories of Spring and Summer do not last — Nothing Gold Can Stay. Oh, the Fall. The sun shines a little less, and the trees, leaves, and grass begin to fade and fall. Remnants remain of the truths sprung up by the Spring and lived out by the Summer; mere bits and pieces — fragments — slowly wither away. Soon, the fragments will remain no more. The wind will blow them away. If you allow your heart to dwell on the Fall, you will see the leaves tumbling fervently and furiously across the yard. You want to still their movement. You aren’t entirely hopeless, though, because the remnants, albeit few, still remain.
Then the winter storms in. The landscape is desolate. The sun hides for days. Nature ceases to mature. The precipitation does not nurture but veils what remains from Fall. Your hope is all but gone. You long for the Spring, the refreshing of the Spirit in the same way it brought comfort and joy to you before. You live completely out of the moment, hoping and longing for something other than the present. Time is your enemy because you have no control over it. The remnants of truth are gone and you can barely remember what they were and how they changed your life. But….
“In this greatest perfection of faith the infinite God Himself becomes the Light of the darkened soul and possesses it entirely with His Truth. And at this inexplicable moment the deepest night becomes day and faith turns into understanding.” — Thomas Merton
This moment of Winter, and even Fall, is entirely necessary and a part of the faith process. This movement from Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter is not a movement from the greatest good to the worst good, but instead, a continued renewal of Faith and recognition of the Light for our darkened soul. At some point, because of our nature, we will forget the joys of God revealed during Spring and manifested in Summer. As we forget, we have two choices: allow God to continue his work via the Fall and Winter, or live in a falsified Spring and Summer brought about by your own works and knowledge that is completely void of God. The former is filled with Grace, and the latter is filled with self.
Yes, the Winter is a bleak time for our soul. None of us desire that sort of anxiety and desperation. The human tendency is to escape suffering — mental, emotional, physical, spiritual — at all costs. But running towards the latter only increases true pain and disunity from God because you chase your fake self, the one outside relationship with God. But the suffering of the Winter has a beauty of its own. It lies in the fact that it is a preparation for the Spring. Without the Winter, the Spring can’t come. Without the Winter, Grace does not abound. Without Grace, there is no communion with the Father.
For me, I incessantly long for the Spring and Summer, yet reign in the Winter. My Winters seem to last months and even years. My longings, at times, for other seasons take the place of God infused Grace. I seek my own transformation, outside the bounds of God actually transforming. Merton simply and truthfully claims that, “It is not we who choose to awaken ourselves, but God who chooses to awaken us.” Praise God!
As Scot McKnight explains in his book, “The Jesus Creed,” some of us are like Peter, who seems to have had more Winters than Springs, while some of us are like Paul, who seems to have had one Spring moment with the rest of his life being one long Summer. But in both instances, they are incredible tools of God. I praise God for the two weeks he allowed me to experience a Spring and the two weeks he allowed me to experience a Summer this past year. I praise God for being a “Peter” type. And I also force myself to praise him for my Falls and Winters.
Praise God, not only for the Seasons dictated by the laws of Nature, but also for the Seasons dictated by the Grace of our Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord!