Each season offers gifts all its own. January’s spare beauty seems fitting after the extravagance of the holidays. Trees have shed every outer expression of the living sap within. Icy streams conceal mottled fish resting below. Snow blankets the fields’ ridges, gullies, and rocks. Winter, in her unparalleled way, changes the view. What was once hidden under canopies of green is now revealed, while the things once readily apparent are now veiled.
Winter is a welcome arrival in the cycle of each year, but I sometimes feel frightened during the winter seasons of my life when “spare beauty” actually seems barren and desolate. I wonder where the vitality has gone. I fret; maybe the inner sap is no longer flowing and the creative stream has dried up. Does my life still hold meaning when I feel stuck and frustrated, my efforts coming to naught? I unwisely try to force something seemingly fruitful to happen. I want to bust out the butterfly from its imprisoning cocoon, knowing all the while that life doesn’t work that way. I would kill the still-transforming caterpillar in my violent attempt. I feel out of step with grace, either running ahead or dragging behind.
The phrase “mind the gap” is often painted on subway platforms in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, cautioning travelers to be aware of the gap when stepping between the platform and train. The gaps in life sometimes loom large and ominous. Gaps between present experience and future vision. Gaps between income and the budget. Emotional and physical distances between loved ones. Gaps between the current living situation and a longed-for homecoming. We live in the tension between our desire for greater fullness of life and the sometimes-difficult present realities.
Might we find grace in the gaps? Winter offers her wisdom. When darkness descends early on both our inner and outer landscapes, we are invited to trust the ever-renewing flame within. In lieu of the outer greening, we may find that the view changes, our insight growing sharper and more discerning. The sufficiency within us and available to us becomes more apparent. We might honor and hold the future vision in one hand while blessing our present reality with the other.
Before the birthing, a baby grows slowly and steadily in the dark enclosure of a womb. A seed lies contained in the black soil, dormant and still, but a seed nonetheless. The shape of a flower is already full within its being, future blooming held securely in fertile darkness. Both seed and flower are blessed.
If the landscape seems void and the visions so delayed in their fulfillment, then let us not miss the beauty of dark gaps and liminal spaces in our lives. Stars appear to shine more clearly in the winter sky, Orion’s belt looming large. Nature models the movement between inner rest and outward expression. Winter, both literal and metaphorical, issues an invitation to humbly enter the mysterious rhythm of life, to retire to bed a bit earlier perhaps, to let life’s conundrums rest for a bit without our fretful vigilance. Dreams are given to the quiet sleeper, dreams that nourish tomorrow’s blooming.