My eldest is a budding geographer. At nearly four years of age he loves reading books about the earth and its continents, its flora and fauna. We often find ourselves having quite technical discussions about the reasons why some plant or animal species are dying out, or why we have seasons. The seasons have been of particular interest ever since 2020 when every change in the seasons was of immense interest, being all we had to look at. He also knows that, while his mother and brothers’ birthdays are in autumn and mine is in winter, his is in spring, and so he can’t wait for the spring.
I for one am fond of winter. Perhaps it comes from the snow of fabled memory from the week I was born. Perhaps, being of more melancholy and introverted disposition, I like the feeling that Christina Rossetti expressed in her poem “Winter: My Secret” of being safely bundled up away from prying eyes and summery excess. Perhaps I just love winter because it’s when my birthday falls. But as I have taught my son about the seasons I have been struck by the way that winter is a gift. Human life – in fact, all life – exists on earth because of the so-called “Goldilocks zone” that our planet occupies in relation to the Sun, being neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to be found. Winter lets plants rest. It lets our half of the planet cool. It lets animals conserve energy and hibernate. Winter teaches us to pause and trust.
A perfect place in scripture to turn to in Ordinary Time is Psalm 145, one of the tenderest descriptions of a creator God providing for the planet that He chose to teem with life. In verses 15 to 16we read these wonderful words:
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
In other translations “at the proper time” is rendered “in due season”. Sir Humphrey would say, “When the time is right”. God, fortunately, knows just when that is for each of us. He keeps Emperor penguins huddled together to survive the long Antarctic dark. He opens up snowdrops and early cheer to point to the arrival of spring. He makes some fruit to arrive in summer, some autumn, some winter. He carried the Kaputar pink slug through horrific bushfires (look it up!) and gives each of us the right things for the right season.
Not everyone is comforted by winter as I am, I know. But for my fellow inhabitants of Earth’s southern half, let me encourage us to remember the God of the “proper time”, the one who “upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14). We could also say all who freeze or hibernate. God who positioned our orbit for life knows our seasons, knows the days that give us life and the days that grieve us, and we can look to Him to feed us through it all.
Winter sets in, rubs his damp feet all through the laundry, wipes his everwet hair with each handtowel, breathes ice on my windscreen, cries soggy complaints on my feet.
And somewhere we are lost between fire and candle, lost in the long, slow ordinary that yawns in between. Days blink; you miss the moment of daylight, the chance to dry out and be.
Only blessing spans the gap between now and the length of days you long for, creeping up to you in beggar's clothes, with a leper's lips and the nagging daily reminder that you are caught in finitude, built to stretch in timelessness, bound by time, to give of time, to bide time, to abide.
...we are almost ready to fall in love with our own desolation.
(Christina Rossetti, Seek and Find)
Whether height of summer or bleak midwinter, there’s death:
in bare-branched trees or brittle grass.
Fire or frost, the end’s the same,
both killers and destroyers alike.
And the greatest foe of all’s despair,
the sickness blighting not only this
but every future season’s crop.
There’s a sickness that can end in life,
that kills illusions, opens eyes.
Wisest farmers wait their time
and learn the seasons’ darkest signs.
Wiser still the one who turns
despair of here to hope beyond.
And so it starts over: our spinning way Around the sun; our cycle of light, dark, Hot, cold; plants losing, gaining leaves and bark. If we hear what the seasons have to say, It will be only their incessant bay, Their insistant reminders – at the park Or down the street – to heed the spark Of summer light, and the dying winter day. If dull the repetition, or senseless The way we never move on or remain, I will take a toddler’s view and address The new day with the delight its maker Feels when he sets the sun’s circuit to recur, That this – all this – can happen again, again!
The garden holds promises, and I visit them daily: minuscule at first, fluffy, unsure, like hesitant children, awaiting the world. This is not quite their season: the Rabbi knew as much, yet visited expectant nonetheless. And, as frost and dew recede, there they are, peeping and proffering garden-bound joy. Too early to pluck, too much promise curse. So I’ll visit them daily until they can sing.
There hasn’t been a lot going on at The Consolations of Writing for the past few weeks: partly because the busyness of life has conspired against my being able to write very much but also because after three and a half years of managing this site I’ve been in the process recently of rethinking what I use it for. I’m in the midst, when time allows, of an extended writing project centred around faith, mental health and the fragmentation of 21st century life. Some of it is on the down low, but some can be found at a new site I’m trialling, sprawlpoems.wordpress.com. And, as that site slowly takes on its own identity, this site seems to be returning to some of its old roots: the question of how writing can bridge the gap between faith and life.
It’s a question I have asked for a long time, both in my own writing and reflection. And now it has a new shape: a doctoral thesis I am in the throes of, around the links between creative writing and adolescent well-being in schools – a topic close to my heart as both a teacher and a writer. So the new question that I’m toying with is this: what does it look like in my own writing for me to be exploring this topic?
The answer is not yet clear, though some ideas are slowly circulating in my mind. I’ll still be posting poems here, though they may have a different flavour. You can also read the poems I post at Sprawl. But there will also be some new ideas and approaches that I’ll be trialling here in the coming weeks and months. I hope you can all join me in the process!
Poor leaves -
gold before the sun is gone,
your brothers green,
fallen now before your time,
the street lined thick with your mistake -
leaves, lie still and wait.
Last week summer ruled the street;
spring creeps in, winter retreats.
We mourned the heat, we dreamt the dreams
that drove the leaves down to the ground.
Autumn soul, poor autumn soul,
let the seasons pass you by
and rest a while in grace.