Here more ways to practice your spirituality in winter.
22. Acknowledge and Honor Your Dependence on Others
Winter is a season of the year when we feel most vulnerable and fragile in the face of Mother Nature's power in storms and low temperatures. Often, too, we feel isolated, in need of friends and family. An important spiritual practice is to acknowledge and receive what others give us with great gratitude. Here are some ways to do this:
- Make a practice of consciously acknowledging your vulnerability and dependence upon others. For example, think about all the service providers who make it possible for us to ride in elevators, make phone calls, read a book at night in a lighted room, have food or supplies delivered, or have the roads plowed. Too often, we take this support for granted.
- During a meal, choose one food item and try to list all the people who helped bring it to your table — the farmers, truckers, store managers, package makers, and even those who created the map that facilitated its movement from one place to your table. When you say grace, include a blessing for all those you depend on.
- Make a habit of acknowledging one free gift you have received at the end of each day. Then thank God for the presence in your life of the bearer of the gift.
23. Set Aside a Day of Solitude
Winter is an ideal season to set aside some time for this spiritual practice. In Anam Cara, the late John O'Donohue calls solitude a key that unlocks the process of a homecoming to our deepest self:
"Solitude is one of the most precious things in the human spirit. It is different from loneliness. When you are lonely, you become acutely conscious of your own separation. Solitude can be a homecoming to your own deepest belonging. One of the lovely things about us as individuals is the incommensurable in us. In each person, there is a point of absolute nonconnection with everything else and with everyone. This is fascinating and frightening. It means that we cannot continue to seek outside ourselves for the things we need from within. The blessings for which we hunger are not to be found in other places or people. These gifts can only be given to you by yourself. They are at home in the hearth of your soul. . . .
"In everyone's inner solitude there is that bright and warm hearth. The idea of the unconscious, even though it is a very profound and wonderful idea, has sometimes frightened people away from coming back to their own hearth. We falsely understand the subconscious as the cellar where all of our repression and self-damage is housed. Out of our fear of ourselves we have imagined monsters down there. Yeats says, "Man needs reckless courage to descend into the abyss of himself." In actual fact, these demons do not account for all the subconscious. The primal energy of our soul holds a wonderful warmth and welcome for us. One of the reasons we were sent onto the earth was to make this connection with ourselves, this inner friendship."
O'Donohue suggests that we keep in our mind's eye the image of our inner solitude as a "bright and warm hearth." Try this practice and see what comes up for you.
24. Skate Under the Stars
Skating is one of the most delightful sports of the winter season. In this clip from the Spiritual Literacy DVD episode on the spiritual practice of "Play," a woman goes skating under the light of the moon as the child inside her emerges, and the result is sheer joy. The words to this selection are from Rick Bass's Platte River.
Find a winter sport that is just right for you and let the child come out in you as you succumb to the sheer pleasure of physical exhilaration.
In The Promise of Winter, Martin Marty along with his son Micah, a photographer, ponder through meditations on the Psalms and pictures, the wintery soul and the different aspects of this cold season in the north. Here is a piece on stillness:
"All is still now. Dwellers in snow country remark how after winter thunder and a blowing storm, silence can pall the snowscape. Poets call this preternatural, because it seems to exist eerily beyond nature. No bird song, no whistle in the wind, no crackle of a twig interrupts the quiet. Plants are at rest, as are households. Often that means all is well. Souls seeking escape from the tumult of business and busy people welcome such hours and occasions.
"Such welcoming is for special times, however, because usually we need a sense that someone is near, that events can occur. The search for company is strongest when we feel danger or fear being isolated. When people long ago feared the stalking of their enemies, they cried to God to break the silence. So do people now; so it is with us now.
"Whole seasons bring, with their coming, disappointments or depressions that can lead to the feeling that we are abandoned. When we must crave the direct voice of God, it seems most difficult to hear. When we most desire company, we feel almost alone. Stillness at such times does not produce quiet within. Instead it awakens the kind of trauma that will be best interpreted by a cry: 'Oh God!' Cultivating the presence of God today and listening helps assure that the only silences we experience are of the welcome sort: those that produce quiet in the fragile heart."
During these winter months, take some time to assess your need for silence. Have you discovered its importance in your prayer life? Where do you go to find this precious resource? Think about the times in your life when stillness has been a burden or scary for you. What spiritual practices have helped you to overcome this obstacle? Create a special day for silence and see how you respond to it.
26. Bless Your Home
In The Celtic Spirit, Caitlin Matthews shares ideas, rituals, and practices that can help enrich your appreciation and understanding of the seasons. Here is a selection for December on blessing your home.
"The heart of winter is a time of homecoming and cessation of travel. We return home, ostensibly to celebrate the holiday with our family, but actually to attend to the domestic shrine that is our family home. Western spiritual culture has tended to emphasize the importance of the temple, church, or place of spiritual gathering over the domestic shrine, but in truth the home is the primary abode of Spirit; if Spirit dwells not there, there is certainly no use seeking for it in other places.
"The householder is a true priest or priestess who maintains the holiness of the hearth and gives all guests the welcome of the home's indwelling spiritual presence. As guests gather or are expected, the householder can ritually acknowledge the house as a shrine of blessing by spiritually cleaning it in preparation for holy days ('holidays'). This may entail going about the house with a bowl of burning aromatic herbs or a flame-warmed dish of sweet oils to cleanse the house-space of any worries, arguments, sorrows, or hidden fears. With intentioned prayer, the householder can make all clean and clear again.
"After the cleaning comes the hallowing or blessing of the house. Kindle your hearth, if you have a fireplace or light your heater or a candle if you have not. Be aware of the heart of the house as a beating, living, spiritual presence. Now, leaving the candle or flame at the hearth, kindle a fresh candle and take it throughout your house. Sing a wordless song of blessing. Now the spirit of your home can welcome all guests who come within its walls, that they might share in the blessing that is yours."
27. Savor the Turn of the Seasons
For Where the Heart Is, Julienne Bennett and Mimi Luebberman asked more than 100 writers to share their ideas on what makes us feel at home. Here is a small portion of Lawrence Hogue's "A Place with Seasons:"
"Now, I want to feel the turn of the seasons in my bones. I want to see my breath at noon, feel the chill of the north wind, and listen to the silence of the dead of the year. I want to watch the migrating birds, and long to follow them south, yet I know that I am in my place and that there is no eternal summer for me. The sun is in its home, and so am I. Like the year that is shutting down, my time will come, but not this year or, I hope, the next one or the one after that. I'll go on to see another spring, another rebirth, another summer filled with long hot days, and another fall like this one. But for now, it's time to dig down deep, to burrow under the covers on cold mornings, to compost the chaff of this year's harvest and make a mulch for the coming year. Out of the death of fall and the silence of winter springs new life, new hope."
28. Earth Teach Me
In Seasons of Thanks, Taz Tagore has created a nondenominational collection of graces, blessings, and stories for each month of the year. Here is one for February which will soon be upon us:
"Earth teach me suffering.
As old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me courage,
As the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me freedom,
As the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me to forget myself,
As melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me regeneration,
As the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me humility,
As blossoms are humble with beginning."
— Chief Yellow Lark, Lakota