You don't have to have snow to learn a few things in the winter season, but sometimes it crystalizes the lessons. There are lessons to be learned in the quiet snowfall, the ice crystals, and warming your toes by the fire. Here are a few of mine this winter - just three.
Icicles are formed with patience and time.
When I saw the icicles, I felt like a kid again. I wanted to sit at the window and watch them form against a clear, cold sky. Drip, drip, drip. They were three, four, even five feet long, hanging in icy spikes from the roof eaves. I noticed they had ridges or ripples as if they formed in rings like a tree trunk rather than drips.
I was on a retreat deep in the snowy woods of Washington State overlooking Davis Lake. I was here to teach and learn. The first thing I learned was icicles need four conditions to form: snow, warm sun, salt deposits in the melting snow, and alternating warm and cold air. What is really fascinating about icicles is discovering that when these conditions come together, the ripples form in a consistent wavelength. God's hand is in the pattern much like a musical scale, hidden, but still very much at work.
But the real secret is time. Icicles only form with patient time. It reminds me of the title of one of Eugene Peterson's books, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. In that beautiful book, Peterson quotes William Faulkner about the faith journey, " . . . A footprint says, This is where I was when I moved again. That is what those frosty wavelengths said to me, built drip by drip and ring by ring on top of the one before until they were almost as tall as me.
Set your table on purpose.
One of the reasons I was at this wintery retreat was to set a welcoming table for my sisters. This was a place of encouragement and challenge, but not competition. We were here to raise each other up.
I was invited to set the tables and I decided to set the tables the way God sets one for us. To me that meant, spreading a tablecloth, lighting candles, calling out names, gifting sweets, and bringing God's creation inside. I did not just pull those ideas out of a hat. They came from Isaiah 43:2-5 which I read aloud from the Message,
Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.
So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
I’ll round up all your scattered children,
pull them in from east and west.
I tell you this so you can welcome the people you love and gather around your table with God's heart in mind. Of course, you can do this with love and laughter and a piping hot pizza still in the box. In fact, I am challenging myself to have more people over with just that kind of hospitality in mind.
But this is how I set the table for family birthdays, holidays, and other get-togethers around my table. Even this kind of beauty doesn't have to break the bank. Most of these items I found on Amazon, at Target, or my local Dollar Tree.
By the way, when setting a table at a camp out in the snowy woods, you cannot bring the matches or candles on the plane. I learned that the hard way.
The simple soulful strength of lighting a single match everyday.
I was chatting with some girlfriends when our conversation turned to mornings routines and how we each start our day. What quickly became clear was that we are hungry for ways to begin our days that have meaning, familiarity, and simplicity. We mostly began with a hot beverage and our Bibles, trying to rise before the demands of the day. Those pieces alone were hard won over the years of raising babies. If we could wake up and gather our senses and our bearings in the world before the world crowded in, we were more ready for whatever life served up.
This year, I learned the beauty and simplicity of lighting a match in the darkness. In these shorter, darker days of winter, I added the lighting of a single match to my morning routine. It is a tiny ritual that seemed to begin my day simply and soulfully. I struck a wooden kitchen match and lit a candle in the dark morning, taking a moment to notice the sound of the strike, the smell of the matchhead burning, and the tiny explosion of light. Before blowing out the match, I watched it burn down imagining all of my fears, insecurities, and resentments burning away. They didn't of course, not completely, but now it seemed possible that these things I let loom large might diminish and leave more room for my friend Jesus.
It seems too simple, but there was something in the simplicity, the stillness, the burning away, and in the single light left behind. It is like warming by the fire after being out in the snowy drifts. This simple morning ritual literally lit up my winter - on the outside as I let the candle burn while I worked or studied at home, and somehow on the inside, too, I had built a fire to meet the day. That is the possibility, that by lighting a single match in our room, we ignite the world in love.
In the past, I have done this match lighting as a Lenten practice, and that is why I tell you about it now. Lent is just around the corner, beginning this year on March 6. Whether your church tradition celebrates the Lenten season or not, you can join in from your spot in the world.
Let's do it together!
Here is the simple practice. For the 40 days of Lent (46 if you count feast Sundays), strike a single wooden match, light a candle, and imagine your fears, insecurties, arguments with others, resentments, regrets, sins, and whatever you hope to let go of, burn away. At the same time, live expectantly that God is surely listening to your prayers, joining you in your day, and meeting your right where you are. Your small lit matches are building a fire to warm your soul and the world with the light of Christ.
A clicker will do the job, but doesn't quite give you the full experience I have described here, though, in the end, you will have a lit candle.
I write these lessons at the end of each season. It has became a favorite practice of mine to reflect on what just happened in my life and my heart. If I don't stop and take stock, I sometimes miss what God is up to. If you want to read more posts like this, check out my other winter lessons from last winter or the winter before.
I wrote this in a community of writers over at Emily P. Freeman's spot on the internet. Pop over there if you want to hear other voices. And you are welcome to join us there at the end of May.