The year 2021 is coming to a close. The sun is lower in the sky. The northern axis of the earth is tilted away from the sun. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, the calendar and the earth both are moving us towards hibernation. As the solstice approaches and the other holidays of light, we are reminded that in many cultures this is not the beginning of winter, but the middle of it.
Does it make a difference to you if you think of this time of year as fully winter, not the end of fall but winter in its fullness? The days are short and growing shorter. The temperatures are getting cooler, if only a little in these days of climate change and drought. Where snow falls, snow crunches when it freezes over night and where it doesn’t fall, it’s frosted grass that crunches underfoot. Lumbering creatures, large and small, have gone underground for a long sleep, having feasted during the summer months. All that reserved energy, stored in rolls of fat, we imagine as the fuel of dreams—dreams of running in green fields, some chasing prey, others just running for the joy of it. Winter for these creatures is a time to dream, unbounded by grim realities.
Shall we take time this month to do the same? Shall we lay our heads down for a rest and let our hearts and minds wander for a while? When you are in dream worlds, unbounded by grim realities, what do you dream of?
What a paradox, right? This time of year when the ground is fallow, the animals quiet in their own way, it is also a time to be creative. You can dream and ponder. Perhaps happy dreams, like a dog lying by a fire whose legs twitch as he chases a dream rabbit. Or maybe you are engaged in deep creativity? Painting a painting or weaving a shimmering shawl made of your favorite colors? This might also be your time to reflect, not create, not dream, but to wander through your memories of the last year or two and reflect. Who have you become? Who are you on the way to becoming? What arises for you as let yourself consider your impressions of the last few years?
There are the obvious events for us to consider (you know very well what they are without needing to name them). But there are the less obvious ones as well and those only you know for yourself. You know the sorrows and the joys, you know where you had to grow and what you had to let go of (for better and for worse).
Hannah Arendt, a 20th Century philosopher, observed that we, human beings, are conditioned beings who change our conditions are thereby change ourselves. By that, we understood her to be saying that who we can be is shaped by the people and conditions around us, and that to the extent that we can make choices (who we spend time with, where we live, how we treat our neighbors and those we wish were not our neighbors), we are choosing who we want to be.
This is the focus of our reflection this winter season—To the extent that we have choices (and some of us have more and some of us fewer choices), how are those choices changing and shaping who we are? Is that who we want to be?
In this mid-winter season, this time of hibernation and reflection, we celebrate you and we celebrate our common humanity. May this be a time of rich reflection and creativity for you and yours.