I notice that Baxter, like many of us, gets a bit lethargic in the winter. He stares out the window, but without any high alert signals set off. There are no stimuli for the hunting instinct, no birds, rabbits, squirrels, other cats to get the juices running for a fantasy hunt. On grey days, Baxter settles into one of his many nap spots and stays put for long stretches. As he has gotten older, he now hugs the heat registers on especially cold days, snuggling the warm air so tightly that I sometimes worry about his catching himself on fire. Winter is a season when he slows down, draws in and hopes for the best. He sometimes cries at the garage door to be let out, but as soon as I open the door and he feels the cold air, he turns and runs. A garage adventure can wait until spring.
Winter affects us in similar ways. We stay indoors much more. We do what we need to do to keep life going — work, grocery shopping, transporting the kids, shoveling snow — but we often pull back, settle in and snuggle in the cocoons we create to feel secure. We want to be safe and warm when the climate gets cold and threatening, and we do little to break out of this survival mode. We look for how we can exercise the least effort to get by and conserve our energy. There is often little to excite us in this season. It’s a waiting game until spring.
Shakespeare wrote about the winter of our discontent when intrigue and sinister human motives darken every encounter between persons. Much of the human drama hinges on this mood. Wintry moments even find a place in the Gospel story. Recall the controversies with the religious officials, the plot to betray Jesus involving one of His own disciples, and the hopelessness of Calvary and its aftermath. Whatever the climate was at those times, the human temperature was cold and dark towards the Son of God. It was a spiritual winter for many, and they were freezing out the love of God incarnate in their midst.
Does this kind of winter get inside of us as well? Do we just refuse to look for a bright side to life rooted in the God who loves us? Do we pull into ourselves for security and warmth and refuse to confront the cold in ourselves and others? If we do, then we cannot grow spiritually. In winter, life goes dormant. It stops expanding, reproducing and bearing fruit. It sleeps, waiting for a better time, and if that time does not come, it may remain sterile for the season or even die. The fruitful soul is a warm one, no matter what the temperature is around it. It takes in the love of God however it appears from whomever it is offered. It refuses to accept the cold environment of human sinfulness but instead creates a climate of forgiveness, acceptance and hospitality for anyone who will receive it. This is the way Jesus transformed the winter of Calvary into the springtime of Easter, and He has empowered us to do the same.
So no excuses for the winter doldrums. Reach out and be about the task of letting the love of God work in and through you. It may not melt snow, but it can melt hard hearts, closed minds and selfish spirits, our own and others.