Winter Well

By Andy Stanton-Henry

Happy December! Depending on your feelings about winter weather and winter holidays, you may hear “happy” in various tones of sarcasm or sincerity.

If you’re like me, this time of years brings a mix of feelings. I experience seasonal affective depression this time of year, so I have to find ways to literally let the light shine on me. But as a native northerner, I actually like cold weather and snow (though I don’t get as much here in Tennessee) and love Christmas. Un-Quakerly though it may be, I also enjoy the season of Advent. Each Advent I take on a spiritual practice as my way of answering the call to “let every heart prepare Christ room.”

Whether or not you like winter or recognize the season of Advent, by this time in December you can’t help but feel the effects of the changing season. Maybe you are fighting it. Like all good leaders, you’re not controlled by the climate. You “preach the Word in season and out of season.” So you push down that gentle pull to slow down, to stay inside, to linger over a conversation or cup of tea. If you’re like me, you conquer the darkness, turn on the lights, and press on.

Nothing wrong with turning on the lights and doing what you need to do, of course. But the last couple of years, I’ve started learning to befriend that gentle pull instead of seeing it as an enemy to conquer. This new posture was largely inspired by an excellent book I read called Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.  

May invites us to hear and heed the wisdom of the natural world:

Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through.

If you need to hear it from a Quaker, Parker Palmer wrote something similar:

Another gift [of winter] is the reminder that times of dormancy and deep 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.

I’m grateful for how May invites us to shift from fighting to befriending this season:

In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we are forever trying to defer the onset of winter. We don’t ever dare to feel its full bite, and we don’t dare to show the way that it ravages us. An occasional sharp wintering would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our lives are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose of them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.

It’s a contradiction. While our bodies and the wisdom of nature is calling us to slow down, the culture is demanding that we go faster. We are traveling to and fro, one dinner or store or white elephant party to another. If you are a pastor, this can be one of the busiest times of the year. All of these things can be gifts of the season.

BUT I still hope you make time to winter. I hope you will let yourself be drawn inward to rest, refresh, reflect, and let dormancy do its sacred work. And I hope you will give others space and grace to do the same.

Maybe wintering is an act of leadership. It nurtures the soul of your leadership, for one. But it also gives others permission to embrace the gentle pull and listen for the holy whisper. And permission may be what they need.

Winter well, my Friends.

P.S. The QLC staff will be doing a bit of wintering, ourselves. We will send out a couple more communications but will be saying and doing much less until the new year. According to Earlham’s calendar, we will be closed from Dec. 18 – Jan 2. If you need to contact us, send an email to [email protected]. One of us will respond as soon as we are able.

Winter peace and Advent joy to you all!

Winter landscape with sunset