For [John Greenleaf] Whittier, winter was a low, dormant time in the life of the farm. As a metaphor for our spiritual lives, it often strikes the same note. It is that time of a frozen spirit, or even a desolate spirit, a time when activity and life and love slow and then still; it is the winter of our discontent, and its temperature is invoked in ways generally unpleasant: "cold shoulder," "cold-blooded," "cold steel," "cold comfort."

It is the quiet time in the rhythm of life, a time of thoughtfulness and looking forward, a time of hope and even celebration, a time when we gather together ... to be warm together and to remark on how cold this winter has been and how much colder it is than last year but not nearly as cold as it used to be in winters past.