Out into the Weather

I usually welcome the quiet routine that follows New Year’s Day. Early January brings a welcome balance after holiday indulgences. But this year’s unrelenting blast of arctic air made for a harsh transition back to everyday life. A car door handle, brittle from cold, snapped off in a friend’s hand. It was a tough start to the year.

I wanted the option to just hunker down against the weather—my favorite strategy for dealing with winter storms. I wouldn’t have minded hiding under the covers from the news, too, along with all the other uncertainty and difficulty life can bring. Yet as it turned out, it was during this coldest week I can remember that I had scheduled a change in office locations.

So despite the single-digit temperatures, I carted boxes and furnishings out of my former office and into my new one. One morning I was thwarted when my hatchback was frozen shut, even when I tried to thaw it with a hair dryer. Only the temperature rising to the teens that afternoon allowed it to open again. These are not the circumstances I would have chosen for a move, but they offered an interesting lesson.

With hat and gloves and layers I was able to work perfectly well in the cold. The physical work helped keep me warm. And being able to accomplish my task in spite of the difficult weather gave me a different way to see myself. Instead of being oppressed by the weather I felt an unexpected sense of vitality and empowerment. Meeting a challenge stirred some energy and excitement, feelings not available from my more usual approach of enduring and waiting for things to get better. I might not have chosen to go out and meet such weather, but I found that I could and that it wasn’t as bad as I might have feared.

Life urges us forward in different ways at different times. Fortunately, it also kindles in us a flame that fuels that movement. That life force will see us through if we can just remain connected to it. The circumstances of our lives sometimes include harsh weather I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. It can take courage just to step out the door and into the day’s demands. And sometimes storms come up that are more than anyone can navigate.

But whatever we face, we can be sure that life is more than our current circumstances. The weather will change. And when we have to contend with harsh weather, we can often find a source of strength that allows us to be stronger than we knew ourselves to be.

A friend recently shared this bit of Swedish wisdom: “There is no bad weather. You’re just wearing the wrong clothes.” Oh please, is one response. But actually there’s some truth in that saying, and it’s helpful when life requires being out in the weather. The right clothes are available, even if it means putting on a mindset we’ve never worn before. And the flame within is always there, a source of warmth and encouragement that never leaves.

 

 

Echoes of Advent in the New Year

Despite my best plans it’s not until now, when we’re on the quiet side of the holidays, that I can fully appreciate Advent. I meant to spend those weeks leading up to Christmas with Kathleen Wiley’s wonderful book, New Life: Symbolic Meditations on the Birth of Christ Within. A good idea, but Christmas gains speed in December and my contemplative intentions scattered.

Ideally, Advent is a season of quiet waiting, preparing for the birth of God into the world and the birth of our highest self into being. The four weeks leading up to Christmas focus on hope, love, joy, and peace as we invite the divine child to be born in our hearts and in our midst. But it’s only now, in the silent nights following the holidays, that there’s time to reflect on how to claim those gifts and live them out in the new year.

Hope, love, joy, and peace speak to the deepest needs of our soul. We need them so much that we’re almost afraid to ask for them, much less trust that our longing will be fulfilled. Yet the message of Christmas is that our hearts’ desires will be met if we allow it. Grace truly abounds, if we can let ourselves be open to it. This is what we are trying to show our children through the gifts we place under the tree. But we forget that grace is ours as well. The tree itself is there to remind us of life’s evergreen gifts and the light of hope, love, joy, and peace.

Back in December, as the solar calendar wound down toward the longest night and the social calendar filled up with holiday festivities, the church calendar brought us through four weeks of meditation on these gifts of the Spirit. Now as the days slowly grow longer and the sun begins its return from the far point on the horizon, I’m ready to retrace the steps through those four weeks. We’ve turned from the innermost point of the spiral, and as we wind outward again into a new year, those mediations await like a trail of breadcrumbs. The challenge is to stay in touch with how these gifts are manifest in our lives, and to find a way to give them expression.

Hope, love, joy, and peace are ours. We don’t have to create them or earn them. We don’t have to craft them or bake them or buy them. They aren’t the result for a perfectly executed holiday, they are the gifts that make our imperfect celebrations beautiful. They aren’t a reward for a perfectly lived life, they are the compass that orients us in how to live. For the next few weeks, I hope to rewind my way through the lessons of Advent and consider how to carry its gifts forward into a year in which we desperately need them. I’ll be listening for the echo of those longings shouted into the canyon of Advent, as they reverberate through these quiet days and carry us into the new year.

How to Welcome the New Year

I love the fresh start of the New Year. It’s usually a time of introspection for me, a chance to look back at events and changes in the previous year, and to dream and plan for the new one.

Lots of people are doing a great job of sharing their approach to that work this year. Christine Kane lays out a promising technique for using a single word as a beacon for the year. You can find the link to her free download describing the process here. Bradley J. Moore at Shrinking the Camel has a great post on setting goals that spur growth here. If you’re interested in specific, entirely do-able actions to take now to help in reaching goals for the year, Marelisa Fabrega has a wealth of ideas here.

This year I find myself less able to dwell in the dreaming and visioning space that I associate with year’s end. I miss it, but what I’m drawn to instead is the physical task of clearing out all kinds of work spaces throughout the house.

I’ve filed months of papers and notes accumulated from the year’s various projects, tossed old files, taken bags of donations to Goodwill, and I’m about to get to the bottom of a very old pile of ironing. Yes, it’s tedious and exhausting. But it needs to be done and it’s satisfying enough that I keep going.

I do have in mind work I want to accomplish in the coming year. At the very least I’m clearing space to do that work. On another level, I’m purging the clutter that encroaches not only on my house but on my self. Clear space, perhaps, will help with clear thinking. Room to work, perhaps, will make room for action.

So this is another way—a workmanlike way—of preparing to welcome the New Year. Not with resolutions, but with a certain kind of resolve.

Happy New Year!

How is the spirit moving you to greet this New Year?