A few years back I wrote a book called Spiritual Rhythm. The title is vaguely misleading. The book is really about seasons of the heart: the way our inner lives are seasonal, cyclical – the lush abundance of summer, the crisp anticipation of autumn, the stark coldness of winter, the riotous awakening of spring. For everything, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is a season. He means, not seasons in nature, but seasons of life – joy and sorrow, loss and gain, war and peace, and so on. In the book I tried to chart that territory, to sketch out the contours and touchstones, the rhythms and textures, of each season of the heart. And I noticed that the seasons are no respecter of persons, or of age: I’ve met cash-strapped 80-year-olds giddy and playful as schoolboys on a dinosaur hunt, and I’ve met well-heeled 20-year-olds gloomy and weary as grave-diggers.
Almost all readers who have given me feedback about that book have responded to only one aspect of it: winter. The stuff on winter has awakened in them an ache. Or, better: it’s given them language to name and understand, at least in part, the deepdown ache inside them, the ache that nothing seems to banish. They carry a sadness that even the most joyful moments do not fully quench; they live under a dread that no amount of good news ever entirely breaks, scatters, lifts.
The thing is, I wrote that book when I lived on southern Vancouver Island. The reason that’s significant is that, well, I didn’t know what I was talking about: southern Vancouver Island doesn’t have a real winter. It has a mild diversion toward chilliness, a brief flirtation with the cold. It glances winter. It plays with it the way a bored cat plays with a gaunt mouse, batting it lightly, with no intent of eating the thing.
Now I live just outside Calgary. Here, winter is a lion that swallows you whole. I know I have whined about this a lot. But the cold here is a brutal fact, and it’s talking me some getting used to. For instance, yesterday my nearly new hot water tank quit. I have a good friend in Edmonton who moved there 15-years-ago from the same place on Vancouver Island I’m from, so he understands my pain. And he’s a plumber. So I called him, and he walked me through a series of diagnostics before we hit on the problem: the air intake for the water tank had frozen inside the house.
Inside. The house.
“It’s pretty common in these parts,” he said.
Oh. Okay. Right. Air ducts freezing inside your house is common. Why didn’t I think of that?
I’ll tell you why: because it’s ridiculous.
There are problems related to coldness that until a month ago I never could have imagined. How could I? Why would I? My biggest weather-related issue on Vancouver Island was waiting for my lush green lawn to dry out enough so that I could cut it in January. Here, I don’t expect to see that thatch brown lawn again until May.
Meanwhile, I face months of thawing out things inside my house.
I’m actually thinking of writing a sequel to Spiritual Rhythm. I’d simply call it Winter, with a subtitle like, Growing Hope When Nothing Else Will Grow.
But to qualify, I first I have to survive one of these things.
Prospects are not good.