It is that time of year when it becomes really apparent that the days are getting longer, light is returning. Groundhog’s day may be a big deal in some places, but here we are pretty well guaranteed another 6 weeks of winter. Usually we see a “midwinter thaw” around this time of year. With climate change it seems that thaw is coming earlier. Much of our snow cover melted a few weeks ago with temps in the 40’s. Now it’s cold again.
I’ve written blogs in previous years about the light and about seasonal celebrations. I’ve written about our long winters and how easy it is to get cabin fever. What I haven’t written much about, at least not here, is hope.
This is a time of year when hope is in short supply. Historically, stores are starting to deplete and some household rationing sets in. In the natural world food is scarce. It is not uncommon to see herd die off in this late winter season, before the new shoots sprout. Likewise, in a harsh year predators will struggle to find enough calories to continue to hunt.
In the British Isles and in the Southern and Eastern United States this marks the time of year when there are signs that spring will come again. Siberian squill, crocus, magnolia – the early bloomers are sprouting. None of these first blossoms are food plants. They are precursors. Signs of hope.
In an interfaith analogy I liken our northern climate Imbolc to the story of the rainbow after the flood. There was no land in sight, but there is a promise of hope in the light. It is a time to prepare, a time to invite hope in. The cleaning that goes along with this time of year is a little like Field of Dreams. “If you clean it, spring will come.”
There is a metaphor that circulates in the Sufi and the Buddhist communities about hearts breaking open. The notion is that it takes experiencing true heartbreak to be open to compassion, to shared human experience. If you’ve never felt it, you are not fully human. Those breaks, those scars, become the windows in your heart and soul that allow the light of the sacred to shine through you. By allowing the pain, and not resisting, you also allow the opening.
The midwinter thaw is like that for me. The days are so dark and so cold and everything is frozen into ice. And then the ice breaks, and the light seeps in and the warmth can begin to reach the waters. It is a moment. The ice will come again, just like heartbreak will come again. But it is also an opening to hope, that after the ice there will also be spring.
It’s a good time to have that reminder of hope in the world.