Winter’s Clarity

Today was all set to be a beautiful day. I got up, ate breakfast, started both our cars, and proceeded the arduous work of brushing off and shoveling out the many inches of accumulated snow that had encased the two vehicles over the night. The sun shone magnificently on the snow-laden branches and eaves this morning (a rare occasion for West Michigan winter), and I even enjoyed the crisp, quiet cold while I worked. I had managed to plan my morning well in order to get my wife and myself both to work on time in spite of Old Man Winter’s interference.

Then everything fell apart. My car wouldn’t start again after I turned it off to lock the apartment. I proceeded to nearly lock the keys in the car. Praise God for good friends willing to come and help me in my elemental struggle against capricious Winter — just moments before we had been cozy companions, and suddenly we were bitter enemies. Alas, even jumper cables were not enough to resuscitate the gallant-if-aged steed, and so my good friend gave me a ride to work. I managed to arrive an hour later than I had intended, with most of my mood ruined.

Once at work, I discovered that the weather had cancelled the meeting I had been rushing to get to; after turning on my computer, I discovered it had downloaded some 114 updates the night before, and needed a good 20 minutes to reconfigure before I could use it. 20 minutes with nothing to do.

It seems that the season of Epiphany — much like the season of Winter — exists to humble me enough to bring me face-to-face with my insufficiency.

“Winter has an even greater gift to give. It comes when the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare, and first snow is yet to come. It is the gift of utter clarity. . . Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.”

~ Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer

I was on top of things an hour and a half ago: competent, capable, in charge. Then Winter, the car, and the computer colluded to take all that away from me, to force me to slow down, to take stock of what I really can control, and to surrender. By the end of the day, I was grateful for the reminder that God, and not I, is in control, that He is orchestrating all things together for my good — even the harsh clarity of Winter. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.


Into a Dark Night

“Unless God Works Passively”Dark Night of the Soul: A Masterpiece in the Literature of Mysticism by St. John of the Cross

Let it suffice to say, then, that God perceives the imperfections within us, and because of his love for us, urges us to grow up. His love is not content to leave us in our weakness, and for this reason he takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all of the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness.

In doing so he is able to take away all these vices and create virtues within us. Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.

 ~ from The Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross,

in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings,

ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

Busy Bees

“They Change It into Honey”

Introduction to the Devout LifeThe worlds sees devout people as they pray, fast, endure injuries, take care of the sick, give alms to the poor, keep vigils, restrain anger, control their passions, give up sensual pleasures, and perform other actions that are rigorous in themselves and by their very nature.

But the world does not see the heartfelt devotion that renders all such actions pleasant, sweet, and easy. Look at the bees amid the banks of thyme. They find there a very bitter juice, but when they suck it out, they change it into honey because they have the ability to do so.

O worldly people! It is true that devout souls encounter great bitterness in their works of mortification, but by performing them they change them into something more sweet and delicious. Because the martyrs were devout men and women, fire, flame, wheel, and sword seemed to be flowers and perfume to them. If devotion can sweeten the most cruel torments and even death itself, what must it do for virtuous actions?

…Sugar sweetens green fruit and in ripe fruit corrects  whatever is crude and unwholesome. Now devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes bitterness from discipline and anything harmful from consolations.

~ from Introduction to the Devout Life, by Francis De Sales,

in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings,

ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith


A Heart Deeply Affected

“A Heart Deeply Affected”The Religious Affections

The nature of human beings is to be inactive unless influenced by some affection: love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, etc. These affections are the “spring of action,” the things that set us moving in our lives, that move us to engage in activities.

When we look at the world, we see that people are exceedingly busy. It is their affections that keep them busy. If we were to take away their affections, the world would be motionless and dead; there would be no such thing as activity…Just as worldly affections are the spring of worldly actions, so the religious affections are the spring of religious actions…

I am bold in saying this, but I believe that no one is ever changed, either by doctrine, by hearing the Word, or by the preaching or teaching of another, unless the affections are moved by these things. No one ever seeks salvation, no one ever cries for wisdom, no one ever wrestles with God, no one ever kneels in prayer or flees from sin, with a heart that remains unaffected. In a word, there is never any great achievement by the things of religion without a heart deeply affected by those things.

~ from The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards,

in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings,

ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith