At the end of this year's unusually long season of fall colors in New England, my co-workers and I enjoyed the lingering splash of brilliantly colored pear trees on a city street outside our office window.
Suddenly, a fierce November wind tore the color from before our eyes and left the scene barren and foreboding. We were chilled not only by that biting wind but by the prospect of four or five months of icy winter weather. Everything looked so gray.
The words of one of my favorite Christmas carols, based on a poem by Christina Rossetti, came to mind, and I shuddered again:
In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
How could that be one of my favorites? I wondered - unless it's the beauty of the setting by Gustav Holst and the flawless rendering by the choristers of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, that get to me. I'm probably being carried away by my sentimental attachment to a tune and a choir.
Since then, I have been rescued from the winter blahs by an excerpt from another poem - one that draws me into an embrace that always leaves me feeling stronger, fired up, and joyful:
So, when day grows dark and cold, Tear or triumph harms,
Lead Thy lambkins to the fold, Take them in Thine arms;
Mary Baker Eddy wrote those words about God as Shepherd. They point to the unfailing love and protection God bestows on all His creation.
While I prayed with this poem, I broadened its message to include people of all races, cultures, and faiths. I affirmed that everyone can be guided safely through the vicissitudes of life - and all weathers ("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 304).
This turned my anxiety about rocketing heating bills into a confident awareness that in the Shepherd's "fold," no one can lack warmth or comfort. And, thinking of a phone call I'd just received from a daughter of mine in South Africa, I added coolness to that list. She is getting ready to celebrate Christmas in summer sunshine, but has anxieties of her own.
"It's the drought," she explained. "How are we going to save our crops without rain? The sun's so hot, I can't let the children play out of doors. And it's too expensive to keep running the air conditioner indoors."
As I listened to my daughter's different but very real concerns, it came to me that the care, the shelter, the environment of love, that God provides constitute an all-purpose, all-season, weatherproof mental place, which is freely available to everyone. No storm windows, no heaters, no air conditioners, no surge-control devices. The spiritual thermostat always kicks in at just the right moment, bringing whatever adjustment is needed. In fact, the vagaries of winter or summer are never recorded there.
When checking the Internet for the original Rossetti poem, I came across an adaptation by Laura Deal Raeder, which gives a heartening new dimension to the Rossetti/Holst carol. It includes the lines:
Hope will grow within us
as we look ahead,
And we see that spring
wakes out of winter's bed.
That encouragement propelled me back to the end of the first verse of Mrs. Eddy's hymn,
I will listen for Thy voice, Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice All the rugged way.
What confidence in God's guidance! The writer is not just persuaded but wholly trusting that there is only one way to feel balanced all year long, and that is to hear God's voice and respond fearlessly and actively to it.
I have discovered that in God's fold there are no seasons in the conventional sense. And the only changes known there are changes for the better. The listening, praying heart experiences fresh views of life every day - sometimes moment by moment. Despite the niggling evidence of those bare branches, life is being maintained and growth goes on. In fact, in winter, roots are being firmly established for the following season.
Listen. Follow. Rejoice. Somehow, as I mulled over those active verbs in Mrs. Eddy's poem, I felt wonderfully motivated. Maybe if I stayed gratefully within God's embrace, the winter wouldn't feel as "rugged" as I had feared. And, anyway, within a couple of weeks the days would be lengthening again.
Those trees, which are now beautiful in a completely different way - fine black lace against mounds of gleaming snow - are reminding me that our every thought and every activity are part of a continuing process of spiritual growth that can never be diminished. Not by the bleakest winter or the steamiest summer.