Holy Candor

Nov 9 / Witty Sandle
Fall this year has been beautiful - unseasonably warm up here in Alberta, and my flowerpots have been blooming gloriously when they should have given up the ghost. Desperate to prolong their life, I brought a few of them inside.

You never know, perhaps they can be tricked into a kind of false summer. Silly me, playing with nature. They quickly began to wither until I had to admit defeat.

Back outside they went to be met within a few days by frost. And that was that. I had to face the reality that winter was edging ever closer and there was not a darn thing I could do about it.

It would be very tempting to write a piece extolling the beauty of the changing seasons. I could wax lyrically about the green shoots of spring signaling new life; the glorious warmth of the summer giving way to the beauty of autumnal colors, and the delicacy of the crystal-like frost gracing the trees in the depths of winter. It would be an eloquent homage to the 12 months of the year, and it would be a faithful description.

But here is what I actually want to say. Winter sucks.

When the long bright evenings begin to close in, letting me know that soon my mornings and late afternoons will be shrouded in darkness, I feel nothing but gloom. It’s an annual and familiar response within me.

I’m a summer kind of a gal and I hate the cold but this year, it feels particularly dispiriting for obvious reasons. The pandemic casts long shadows over our ability to connect with our friends and families. I find myself wondering how I will be able to socialise when backyard drinks and barbecues are no longer an option. I didn’t want to put my summer dresses away, but the weather insisted. I didn’t want to unpack our woolen hats, mittens and scarves but the cold gave me little choice.

Denial only goes so far but at some point, reality hits us squarely in the face and reluctantly, we have to surrender and come to a place of acceptance.

Recently, during one of my early morning times of quiet, God played a little joke on me, knowing as God does how I feel about winter. In my daily reading were the words of Gregory the Great. [1] Reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 which addresses suffering and persecution, he wrote, “the seeds planted for a future harvest germinate more fruitfully if they are covered over with frost.”
I was aware of a rueful internal half-smile as I thought about my poor flowerpots, shivering on my forlorn looking deck. It’s not as if I don’t understand the complexities of nature - how gardens grow, trees flourish and flowers blossom. I comprehend why the seeds must fall to the ground and maturity comes from times of trial, but it doesn’t mean I have to like any of it.

As I sat and contemplated these words from this seventh century Bishop of Rome, I acceded to their truth and at the same time, I found myself saying, “Lord, I sure wish it wasn’t so. If I were you, I would have fashioned things differently. I’m not so keen on this universal pattern of death and renewal that you seem to have knitted into the fabric of your creation. In all honesty Lord, left to me, it would be summer all the time.”

It’s a good thing I’m not in charge. It’s also a good thing the Divine One lets me:

Rage against... and give in to... at the same time.

Hold my palms upwards in prayer that professes, “not my will but yours,” whilst also muttering, “this is not O.K God.”

Stare at my sad barren yard and grumble about the passing of what was even while I acknowledge what must be.

“The grass withers, the flower fades...” declares the prophet Isaiah, his voice echoing down the centuries to my ears, reminding me that it has always been this way. It seems to me that much of the work of spiritual direction is companioning others into profound honesty. It’s providing a space where what is simply is with no pretence or attempt to resolve anything.

The seasons, imbued as they are with the fingerprints of the Creator, teach us lessons we would rather not learn but must. In direction, we are given permission to look at the seemingly arid landscape of our lives, those desolate dying pots and express our sadness. We receive permission to name whatever arises within us and experience the gentle touch of the Spirit that is ever-present, doing her generative work.

I am grateful that I can incline my head in acceptance and sigh a little as I prepare for the chilly months ahead. I don’t feel the need to pretend before the one who has indulgently loved me forever.

I will reluctantly don my winter coat and I will wait for spring. It always comes.

[1] Bishop of Rome, 590 to 604

Witty Sandle
Witty works as the Career and Vocational counsellor at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta, combining her professional career development background with her spiritual direction skillset. She graduated from Portland Seminary in 2019 with a Masters in Spiritual Formation. Witty is deeply interested in questions of vocation and significance. She describes her own vocation as seeking to be an attentive presence, creating safe spaces where others can discover all they are called to be. http://www.everydaypilgrimages.org