There are many who suffer from a lack of sunlight in the winter months, for January and February are often overcast and gray, not to mention snowy, icy and rainy in many parts of the country. Christmas in the secular world is done December 26th, and when I tried to find simple Christmas wrapping paper this year on December 24th, many of the stores had already transitioned to Valentine’s Day. The mysteries of the Incarnation take time to sink in, especially in a world in which the weeks preceding the feast are jammed with parties, concerts, shopping, baking and entertaining. In one parish in our area, however, they reverted to an older practice that extended the season to the Presentation, and left the basics of a nativity scene, Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child up in the sanctuary right below the altar until February 2nd. It was a profound meditation to view the symbols of the Incarnation right below the altar, which was right below the Cross. All of salvation in one glance!
Winter stillness is a great time to reflect on those mysteries of the Incarnation and then transition into the “rest of the story” with Lent and Easter. In my area of the world in New England, the cold and gray tend to curtail many outdoor activities, unless one is a skier, and they often usher in hot soup and warm bread recipes. The fireplaces or wood stoves get stoked and it becomes a perfect time to sit still, read a good book or watch a movie, but it can also be an ideal time for a retreat. Trisha Yearwood had a song out a few Christmases ago that made a comeback this year with a video, “Walking Through Bethlehem”:
It focused on our journey toward understanding and appreciating what the season is all about, and how to enter into the mysteries. It is near impossible for us to wrap our heads around what is means for God to become man, save us from our brokenness, and offer us union with Holy One. That requires a process, a journey, one baby step at a time. And if walking through Bethlehem helps us to better understand, all the better!
There is something spiritual about walking; we take one step at a time; we put one foot down ahead to the other and we move forward. Taking those steps is often paired with reflection, if we are not in a hurry. Our world today almost insists we be in a hurry, that we multi-task, that we get things done. Modern secular society is trying to shape us all into useful commodities. Our world today seems to be all about speed and ease. We seek instant access to just about everything via the internet, the fastest planes, trains and automobiles, the most accurate and up-to-date information. We want immediate gratification and instant answers to our questions. I even had a relative tell me years ago that she didn’t need to go to school – she just needed Google! Gone are the days when one had to walk to a library and pour through a card catalog to find the right book that just might provide the right answers. All of that has morphed into sophisticated library databases where one can pull an obscure dissertation written half way around the world to one’s own desktop in minutes.
Walking, on the other hand, is not fast. Walking takes time. And more often than not, walking comes with some soul searching. Soon, the time of Lent will be upon us and we will hear the age-old directives: “repent,” “turn around,” “fast,” “do penance,” “give alms,” etc. Before we get caught up in just another liturgical season, however, perhaps taking a walk or two to reflect on how to observe this 40-day journey might be helpful. Slowing down and reflecting on how to connect the dots from Incarnation to Cross and Passion to Resurrection might be helpful. Repent in Hebrew is shûb, or turn around; in Greek, metanoia, or change (one’s) thinking. What are we turning toward? How do we want to change our thinking? to that of Christ’s? How do we want to change this Lent? Do we want to change? Are we open to transformation? Certainly in the media within the next week or so, we will hear far more about Valentine’s Day (apart from the actual St. Valentine) than we will hear about Ash Wednesday. Sitting in winter stillness or walking in the quiet, we can retrieve the true meanings of these seasons. We can explore new paths of our own transformation through the wilderness, one step at a time with few or little distractions. We may even discover new ways to make our crooked ways straight.
There is a bishop in Lansing, MI, Bishop Earl Boyea, who composes a weekly video chat blog for his fellow travelers in Lansing. During this year of Eucharistic renewal, he calls it: “On the Road to Emmaus” and he describes it as a journey toward holiness, walking through the Mass, one step at a time:
Whether one is walking through Bethlehem or toward Emmaus, there is a connection. Salvation history is being played out for all to see and we are invited to immerse ourselves in its mysteries.
I think winter not only gives the earth a rest, it can give us a rest or a time to go deeper into our own faith and understanding if we allow the Spirit its due. So, as we approach the last few days before Lent begins, why not take a walk? Find a secluded quiet spot of nature if possible, and take one step at a time asking, “What do I want to become by Easter this year?” And if you are caught up in that part of the world that is raging with storms or warfare or other calamities, do your best to find that inner room of your soul and take a walk there from room to room to room, “for In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)