The Gifts In Winter

I am slowly learning that there are gifts in winter. This has required me to live a mentored life, receiving all that my mentors have to offer me as I experience what I call earlier a “figurative winter.”  This is a time when loss, sorrow or suffering is experienced in a rather intense fashion. I hate that life involves this. But it does. These figurative winters are often very harsh. Oh who I am kidding! They are not OFTEN harsh. They ARE harsh. And yet, if we have the character to get out into the winter and not avoid it, we can find a gift.

While at first we may only see the frozen layer of sorrow, something lurks there that is beautiful. The beauty may be underneath, it may be to the left or right. The beauty may be above, but it is there. “Open my eyes Lord, I need to see the beauty in the midst of this horrendous winter.”

Winter 18 (WM)I have been fortunate to have key people who have helped me see beauty in my figurative winters. I wish I could talk about all of them. But here I want to highlight two in particular: Parker Palmer and Dan Steiner. While I’ve never had a chance to meet Parker Palmer, I have read every one of his books. But I have met Dan. I wish all my readers could meet this remarkable man. He is one of my students at Denver Seminary. And, I suspect he will be a life-long friend.

Both Parker and Dan don’t know this, but they mentor me. Parker mentors me as I read his books and Dan mentors me as I gaze at his photography (and listen to his brilliant ideas in my office). As the mentee, I intentionally engage each of these men as a mentor.

I have received permission both from Parker Palmer and from Dan Steiner to share with you their art here on my blog, art in word and art in images. As you read here,
I think both Parker and Dan will mentor you as you work to figure out how to live in your figurative winters, whether they be current or future ones. I need not go on writing any more of my own words in this post.

Hear from my mentors below about the gifts in winter:

Let Your Life Speak: Listening To The Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

Winter is a demanding season — and not everyone appreciates the discipline. It is a season when death’s victory can seem supreme; few creatures stir, plants do not visibly grow, and nature feels like our enemy. And yet the rigors of winter, like the diminishments of autumn, are accompanied by amazing gifts.

autumn red tree in snow

One gift is beauty, different from the beauty of autumn but somehow lovelier still; I am not sure that any sign or sound on earth is as exquisite as the hushed descent of a sky full of snow.

Another gift is the reminder that times of dormancy and rest are essential to all living things. Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter – it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves.

Colorado snow landscape

But for me, winter has an even greater gift to give. It comes when the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare, and the first snow is yet to come. It is the gift of utter clarity. In winter, one can walk into the woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in. Colorado winter trees

A few years ago, my father died. He was more than a good man, and the months following his death were a long, hard winter for me. But in the midst of that ice and loss, I came into a certain clarity that I had lacked when he was alive. I saw something that had been concealed when the luxuriance of his love surrounded me – saw how I had relied on him to help me cushion life’s harsher blows. When he could no longer do that, my first thought was, “Now I must do it for myself.” But as time went on, I saw a deeper truth; it never was my father absorbing those blows but a larger and deeper grace that he taught me to rely on.

When my father was alive, I confused the teaching with the teacher. My teacher is gone now, but the grace is still there – and my clarity about that fact has allowed his teaching to take deeper root in me. Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the ground of our being.
Colorado sunset winterIn the Upper Midwest, newcomers often receive a classic piece of wintertime advice: “The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Here people spend good money on warm clothing so that they can get outdoors and avoid the “cabin fever” that comes from huddling fearfully by the fire during the hard-frozen months. If you live here long, you learn that a daily walk into the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly to the very heart of the season you fear.

walking in wood in winter

Our inward winters take many forms—failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience, yields to the same advice: “The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.”  Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives.

colorado winter landscape

But when we walk directly into them—protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance—we can learn what they have to teach us.  Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.

———————-End Parker Palmer Quote—————————–

Parker Palmer Quote used with Permission: John Wiley and Sons. License #3555681120081

Palmer, Parker. Let Your Life Speak: Listening To The Voice Of Vocation. Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Dan Steiner has made his winter photographs available for purchase. Perhaps it might help to frame one of Dan’s images, hang it on your wall and gaze at it, reminding yourself that there are gifts in winter. For a limited time, they are available at a 15% discount to my readers.  Use promo code ColoradoWinter at checkout. http://thevisualsojourner.smugmug.com/Winter-Wonderland/

Dan primarily uses instagram to share his pictures on a weekly basis:

Instagram: http://instagram.com/thevisualsojourner/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thevisualsojourner

One more picture below. Thanks Dan for sharing.

Winter 19 (WM)

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