Bundled up against the cold this week, I have been walking down to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway which is a mere block from my house, sometimes for an exercise walk and other times with my binoculars for a “bird” walk. In the last four days I have seen a pair of goldfinches, four pairs of bluebirds, a cardinal and a red-tailed hawk. The hawk was perched high in a tree across the creek from me and looked like he was a fluffier version of a hawk, no doubt a warmer coat for winter. The bluebirds also looked fluffy and well-fed, more protection against the artic temperatures that have been visiting Charlotte in the last week. In some strange inversion the Jetstream has dipped so far down into the US that Alaska is experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures while North Carolina and Georgia’s are dipping into the low 20’s at night with highs from the low 30’s to the mid-40’s. I know, that’s not cold by Alaskan standards, but it is for us.
Winter as a season across the globe is one of preparation, of hunkering down, of quiet as one endures the cold and the snow and awaits the bursting forth of life and the accompanying increase in activity in the spring. Whether it is spring in your area in February or March as in much of California or April and May here, or May and June in the most northern parts of the US, winter involves a lot of waiting. Wherever you live, I am sure that you know the nature of winter in your area, but we are protected from many of its effects by central heating, modern snow-removal equipment and the like. Still winter is a time of great thoughtfulness, even of introspection as we move from the harvest season into the season of quiet.
For me God has set this season as one in which I will finally learn the lesson that the Life of the Spirit is one of being, not of doing. I think that in my childhood in the 1940’s and 50’s, this would have been an easier lesson to learn. The pace of life was much slower, there was much more leisure time to enjoy hobbies, neighbors and friends. After the war my father who was a chemical engineer rarely worked more than forty hours a week. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. There was lots of time and energy on the weekends and in the evenings to tackle many repairs and pay bills and still have tons of time left over to relax. In fact my father’s pace on the weekends, as I remember it, was to work in the garden, say, for an hour or two, come in and recoup on the couch watching some baseball or football, fall asleep for a while, and then get up to repeat the work/game/nap routine all day Saturday.
Now, well, you know what it is like now. We try to do all the same amount of fixing and bill-paying and work around the house that my mother and father did, but there isn’t the time and space to do it in. Everything, every minute is pressured, squeezed to try to eke out a moment of accomplishment, to get everything done, but there is no time and space to ease the days off. So we’ve become a nation of doers, never resting, rarely taking any time for self-reflection. Our national and personal self-images depend totally on what we do and never on who or how we are.
The effect on the spiritual life is tremendous. We have no time to just sit in God’s presence, to await his answers, to refresh ourselves, or even to pray our deepest needs. In silence, if we ever try it, all we hear are the high pressure demands of our inner voices and we want to run from them. Winter is the time of the year, because of the lowering of the activity bar, when we hear them best and have a good chance to get a handle on who and what these voices are about. Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true and all else will follow as the day follows the night.” But we have to know who that own self is, before we can be true to it. Self-knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly about us —acceptance of our divine and human capacities– is what sets us free of the temptation to doing over being.
There is no time; we have to carve out time from our day in which we can enjoy God’s presence and experience how doing this brings peace and joy and love into our lives. It’s really our choice how we live our lives. “I don’t have any time,” is an oft-used excuse, but it doesn’t hold water, even in these very busy times. We do what we value. If we set aside even a few brief moments to sit with God, that says to ourselves and to our God that we value time spent in the presence. A small commitment can have huge payoffs over time. God rewards our commitments by helping us organize our lives around them. Our days work better even with a small time spent with God. The payoff is immediate in a more relaxed attitude, a tendency to look for God’s presence outside of the dedicated time. Our relationships work better. We are more present.
Look to your own self, that deep-soul self, the truest part of ourselves, for what you are longing for. Listen for the call. What is that voice saying to you? What resonates deep inside of you? If you’re already setting aside time for God everyday, what is God calling you to now? What longing is his presence uncovering. The whole of the Life of the Spirit is about paying attention to the deep-soul self/the voice of God within and heeding what it is offering you. It will show you the way to soulfully living your life with all the satisfaction and meaning you could ever want. It will bring you joy and peace and love, so that you no longer have to project out onto the world that it has to be joy and peace and love first, but so that you can be joy and peace and love from the inside out.
This is the gift of winter, of presence, of spending time in reflection and deep listening. You have to dive beneath the culture, beneath all you’ve been taught, in order to hear what the deep-soul self has to say. But once you do, you’ll never want to return to the old way of living. It doesn’t hold a candle to a soulfully-lived life. As for me I have gone kicking and practically screaming into the transformation of my identity from one of doing into one of being. At every step of the way I have objected to the Lord, ”but I’m not doing anything!” or “I’m not accomplishing anything!” I’ve been complaining bitterly about the loss of doing. But finally, after realizing that this is a huge issue for me, I have set my intention to be a human being, a person whose presence is more important than what I do, one in which I put my beingness first and then watch to see what action flows out of that beingness. That will be a real change!