Monday, January 22, 2007

In the Bleak Midwinter

Yesterday I sat by myself at church, which is nothing new as ld was off visiting another ward. I sat in my usual spot, off to the far right and near the back. I like sitting there because it allows me to catch up on a lesson or fill out my weekly to do list without feeling guilty or bothered. Lately, it’s proven to be useful in my calling as well. It allows me to scan the congregation and notice who’s not there, which sister looks particularly weary and haggard, or who slips in late and then leaves early. All useful info for me to know. After the sacrament I make little notes - call so and so, check on Sister M, tell Bishop about, follow up on, remind, thaw out some rolls to take to Sister J ... It’s all do, do, do, stuff.

But yesterday during Sacrament meeting I didn’t write anything. I didn’t read, didn’t even doodle or peruse through my scriptures. No munching on lint covered breath mints, either. No, I did nothing. I just sat there. I was too pooped and beat up to do anything, except think. I did do a lot of thinking.

January has been a really hard month for our ward and for me personally. If you take into account all the sickness, the tragedies and losses suffered, the unexpected events not to mention the days of freezing 5 degree weather, you could justifiably label it a month of bitter cold. Yeah, that’s a good description. Bitter and Cold. Brrrr. Definitely feels like a winter in our lives — the winter of our own personal discontent (thank you, John Steinbeck)

There have been a lot of sad, sad sisters this past month. Those with mean, ornery husbands, those with serious welfare needs, those with such struggles and challenges that they are left hopeless and emotionally spent. Just so many ‘crosses and losses’. And I am not immune. No, our family struggles too, only in different ways. The old adage proves true for all of us — “there are no perfect lives, only lives.”

So, as I sit on my chair dazed and numb over all this collective pain, my mind starts thinking of my favorite Christmas song/hymn, only we don’t sing it in our church, although I wish we did. You might know it.

In the Bleak Midwinter.

In the bleak midwinter, frost wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

This song speaks to what I am feeling and not just because it’s kind of melancholy and written in a minor key. Winter, well January really, is a month simply to be gotten through. We hunker down in January, especially when those cold, piercing winds blow.

We all know the feeling, don’t we, of life suddenly or slowly, bending away from our will or our striving, toward what we dread or fear or are not ready for. Illnesses come, we lose someone we love, our work comes to naught, we feel helpless to help others. Whatever the circumstances of our own emotional or spiritual winter we can all relate, I think. The experience of bleakness, of hunkering down, of ‘coping mode’ is common to us all.

So, yesterday I notice:

Sitting in the congregation the family whose husband/father lost his job last week. They are all huddled together on the bench singing the opening hymn with gusto.

The sixteen year old who accidently ran over her little 2 year old brother on Thursday and put him in ICU at Primary Children’s stumbling in late with the rest of her siblings. Her hair is unkempt and the boys shirts are all rumpled but here they are.

The sister whose husband left her last year for some ‘cute young thing’ and who hasn’t stopped crying bitter buckets slips in quietly in front of me. After being absent from church for many, many months, she’s here.

The sister whose chair beside her husband is empty. It was a ‘feeling green day’ for her as the chemo she is enduring has made her too nauseated to attend. She’s not present physically, but I feel and miss her spirit.

And then Sister X, who serves so valiantly and tirelessly in her leadership calling and always with a smile plastered across her face. Today she sits with red rimmed eyes. Her husband will be in court Tuesday and sentenced. They are praying for no jail time.

And so it goes. On nearly every row sits someone experiencing winter living. And yet here they are sitting in the pews, a testament to resilience or faith or both. Given the magnitude of some of their struggles, and my own, what keeps us all from simply pulling the covers up over our head and refusing to get up? What makes us brave the cold and keep trudging?

It’s in the second verse.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God almighty, Jesus Christ.

In the bleak midwinter, while earth stands hard as iron, and water is like a stone and snow has fallen on snow, on snow, on snow, Jesus was born, into the midst of barren cold.

The point of that song (and I can not get it out of my head) is important to me because I believe in light in darkness, hope amidst adversity, in love standing against pain. I believe in Jesus Christ and in our Heavenly Father’s plan. But because of the shadows that winter casts, it is not always easy to see during these bleak months. Faith often goes unnoticed.

Sitting there in church yesterday I was surrounded by faith. Taking the sacrament on a cold wintry day in January seems especially meaningful to me. Yes, renewing covenants and recommitting is important but there’s something else, too. We were all there because the Savior (and even his church) offers us companionship in our vulnerability, our fragility and our mortality.

The ‘aha’ moment came for me yesterday when I realized that this is the best way for us to relate to each other as well. It really would be good if we could acknowledge our mutual vulnerability and see the fragile and precious child in each person.

Today doesn’t seem as cold. We are, after all, on the downside of January and Spring is right around the corner. Bring it on.