From Winter Wondering, Wisdom Rendered

January 29, 2017 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Isaiah 55:10- 13 & Philippians 4: 4 – 9


May the Holy Spirit carry each and all of us to deeper understandings as we pause and ponder today in these holy moments in the season of Winter.

What beautiful, creative, poetic words we are hearing about the beauty and opportunities of the winter season!  Perhaps if we had an open mic right now, there would be some less complimentary words about the slippery walk ways, slush and sleet, frigid temperatures, biting cold wind, no golfing, no boating,  no yard sales, no blooming gardens!… I’ll bet you can think of others.  Right!?

Right now, I invite you to pause and ponder with me, what this both beautiful and challenging season can teach us, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically.

I bought my son Pastor Scott a coffee mug from Suger this Christmas that had one word written on it;  PAUSE.  You see….he rarely pauses.  Don’t know where he got that trait!!!    I also know that many of you here do not PAUSE all that well…. and that my good friends, is just one of the important lessons Winter can teach us.  PAUSE.. read good books, sit by the fire wrapped in warmth, ruminate, dream, plan, sip  and savor…. have meaningful conversations. BE!  PAUSE!  Do what our mouse friend Frederick did!

The question I was given to reflect upon is : What does Winter teach us ? What does it teach me?

Physically, it teaches me to walk like a penguin and the consequences when I fail to do that. It teaches us all the importance of slowing down when we walk and drive to avoid disastrous results, though it seems many do not heed that important lesson!!!

Every approaching Winter season inspires both avoidance and adventure, as well as preparation!

The “ I am out of here” avoidance folks head south before the first snowflake descends, while the winter adventurers get out the skiis, skates, sleds, snowmobiles, snow shoes and ice fishing gear!  Some of us less adventurous souls, enjoy a blazing wood stove, hot chocolate, comforting chowder and steaming soup.  Many of us rent movies we’ve been waiting to see, read books we’ve been waiting to read, watch more TV and get into cheering on our favorite football teams and take on indoor winter projects.

As winter is approaching, I love watching the cute chipmunks and clever squirrels prepare for it…..gathering food to stash away for their survival. Their instinctive preparation is a necessity for them, and also a lesson to us as well.  Autumn is a time of preparing home and hearth, mind and spirit for the first blast of winter’s cold energy!

As our winter lovers and poets today have mentioned, most of us who choose to stay in New England for the Winter, experience a thrill when the first snow comes.  Don’t you agree?  There is an excitement, which is not limited to the children.  When you wake and find every tree and shrub laden with pure, white snow, it is awe inspiring! It’s a gift of glistening beauty to a dreary, gray earth. We get out our cameras to remember the beauty…and our snow shovels and snow blowers to deal with it!!

What are the  deeper lessons? The metaphors…. that inspire the  contemplative poetry and beautiful music?

Most of you know that I love trees….. all kind of trees and even stumps!   I love trees in all seasons,  their limbs laden with leaves or completely exposed.  Some years ago I wrote a poem about winter trees and what they taught me.

“ Winter trees, broken branches, twisted limbs…

          every knot, wormhole, blemish  EXPOSED.

Autumn spent…. leaves …  glorious greens, colorful reds,      rusts and yellow….gone…. recycled to Earth

Now, its vulnerability visible, the authentic tree emerges

          cosmetic covering gone.

Like a dancer unencumbered by costume, wind-tossed         FREE!

It’s graceful form revealed…weathered wood

          God’s artistic sketch against a winter sky.

Would I dare a winter season? To shed, to be  naked

          vulnerable to others, true to myself?

Oh that truth and beauty would be revealed in me

          as in the winter tree!

That I might endure the transformation and emerge fresh       and new in the Spring.”

Nature teaches us that spring follows winter…. the time of frozen darkness will depart and new life will emerge…the winter trees and gardens will bloom again.  It is part of the Creator’s marvelous plan and we can trust it…. we can savor and use each season to expand our consciousness and deepen our soul connection with all that is. Spring would not be as fruitful and productive without the dormant season of Winter.

Singer/songwriter Harry Chapin wrote a lovely folk song called Circle.  I’ll bet you know it.

All my life’s a circle;

Sunrise and sundown;

Moon rolls through the nighttime;

‘Til the daybreak comes around.

Since we are an integral part of the web of creation, we have natural  life cycles that call us into a harmony of being and doing with all life on this beautiful planet.   Circles of life…. seasons  that each have a purpose in God’s marvelous plan for creation.

Many of us here are in the winter season of our lives, which does NOT mean that we hunker down and waste away!  On the contrary, it is a time when we can take the time to ruminate on all the memories, all the wisdom we have garnered throughout our busy lives

I adore the story of Frederick, I read today, and hope you see why. We store up a rich treasury of knowledge ….. a library of stories that can enrich those in the spring and summer seasons of their lives and bring us much joy and contentment.

One of my most treasured mentors when I was a student and minister of Christian Education was John Westeroff who wrote a classic book called Will Our Children Have Faith?  His answer to that provocative question was that they will only have faith, if we, the memory community, share our faith stories with them the vision community.  Bottom line! Sharing our faith and wisdom stories is critical to the future of the universe and the fulfillment of God’s dream for creation..

The two passages I chose today which speak to me on this theme are two favorites of mine

The first from the eloquent book of Isaiah….written most likely by several prophets of that time:

offering us first,….a reference to the cycles of nature …… which reveal the incredible wisdom and purpose of the Creator:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return to it  without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish,  so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,” …a  divine plan for sustenance for Earth and all its inhabitants….

Then the message  which calls for a human response:

Verse11 :“so[likewise]  is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” That’s putting the ball in our courts…the seeds in our souls!

That passage has always spoken to me clearly about the importance of being productive….. to working in partnership with the Creator to bring about nourishment, enrichment and the fulfillment of God’s dream for peace, sustenance and productivity for all creation.

Each season of nature has its purpose…..and so do we…. my good friends….so do we.

In seasons of darkness we can be the light, in times of confusion, we can provide clarity. As Maya Angelou said so succinctly and brilliantly; we can be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.

In her marvelous book, Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin , she quotes….. Malidoma Some’ who said, “All of us carry within ourselves something that is waiting for the right moment when it can burst out and repair the particular separation that we are experiencing.”

I am certain that many of us have experienced spiritual winters…. times of darkness when we feel like there is no Divine Spirit active in our lives.  Instead of despairing, it is nourishing for us to do as David Whyte’s profound  poem suggests….that we listen…listen to what may be called forth in us in these dark, quiet times.  Wait for the guidance of the indwelling star of the divine spirit….the light that will guide us to the awaiting spring.

I love the song that Chris sang today called Dark of Winter…and truly  Shelley Jackson Dunham  expressed what I am trying to say so poetically:

  1. Dark of winter, soft and still, your quiet calm surrounds me.

Let my thoughts go where they will, ease my mind profoundly.

  1. Darkness, soothe my weary eyes, that I may see more clearly.

When my heart with sorrow cries, comfort and caress me.

And then my soul may hear a voice, a still, small voice of love eternal.

Darkness, when my fears arise, let your peace flow through me.

Just beautiful…..profound….true!

I will close with the second passage…. a letter from the Apostle Paul to his beloved church in Philippi,  another essential passage and insight for me and all  of us, I believe in all the seasons of our lives:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always.  

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What a critical message for us today with all the conflicting rhetoric that is invading our minds and spirits.  Think instead on the words of Paul,… what is pure, and lovely and admirable.  And if we do……says the prophet ….

We will go out in joy

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

will burst into song before us,

and all the trees of the field

will clap their hands.

From out of the deepest darkness comes the Light.  From out of the cold of Winter, comes the warmth of Spring.  What a glorious Creator we worship. What a marvelous creation we enjoy!  Amen!



Why Did God Invent Winter?
— Jennifer Comeau

Why did God invent winter? A season so unappealing that more than half our congregation exits stage right before it arrives. Think of it: biting 40 mph wind-gusts that cut through our flimsy coats (like those we endured on Friday); dangerous iced-up walkways and roads (like those we tottered on last week); muted, dull-brown, dead-looking landscape absent of vibrant flowers and buzzy-buzzing creatures; mushy, sloppy gray snow-piles that melt into – mud season!

Then God whispers, “Clean your smudged glasses, weary traveler, and look again. Over there, graceful conifers stand resplendent in their snow-laden ball gowns; snowflakes fall like silent miracles, and then land to form curls, like vanilla frosting upon the earth; breathtaking sunrises or sunsets, with brushstrokes of crimson, blaze-orange and dusty lavender intensify an undulating backdrop of white; oh, and the silence. The silence.”

Winter, yin to summer’s robust yang. That pull inward to a place of dormancy, hibernation, listening, and rest. Long dark nights foster sweet slumber and the dream-time, while galaxies of stars twinkle their consent; cozy fires radiate warmth through layers of t-shirts and turtlenecks, knitted sweaters and corduroys; intimate games – of canasta or euchre, pinochle or Oh Heck – brighten the hours while succulent aromas rise from the stew that cooks atop the stove; puffed-up chickadees and cardinals, nuthatches and finches carry on without pause while gusty onshore winds generate groans from poplars at wood’s edge.

Winter, a time when a deep view opens up into the wildwood; a view that at last allows us sojourners to see the forest through the trees.

We remember now. And so, slightly abashed, we say, “Thank you, God, for the gifts and splendors that only winter can provide.”

And then God chuckles, nods, and says, “Winter is all these things.” Then God urges, “Surrender, weary traveler to all these things; become like the dormant seed, that rests and waits; waits for a sweet invitation from a newly-warmed earth.”



Lessons From Winter
— Chris Sorrentino

I have two lessons for the winter season:

1) To me, one of the finest things about the winter season is the lack of background noise … the only thing you can hear often is the whistling of the wind … so to me, one of the lessons of the season is the importance of listening, and an appreciation of silence

2) When I first moved to New England, i wasn’t a big fan of winter, and anxiously awaited the melting of the snow so I could start playing tennis … Then I realized that the wait for warmth could be a long wait indeed … So I said, instead of waiting 5 months for it to get warm, maybe I should simply embrace winter for what it is … so to me, the lesson of the season is that sometimes we have to embrace that which we don’t at first enjoy, and try to appreciate the gifts of all the seasons.