Deep in our hearts, we love winter. Not the way we love snowflakes and sleigh bells and warm woolen mittens, which isn’t really deep at all, nor even the way we love ice skates and snow days and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. All these things are good, but it is not for their sake that we love winter. Our love for winter is patient, it is kind; it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way; it does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Like love, winter can come suddenly, in an October snowstorm that leaves us stunned and helpless, not knowing where to turn or what to do. Or we can recognize the signs from far off, in the falling of the leaves, the rising of the Pleiades and the turning of Arcturus, the cry of the wild geese on their journey south, and the wind that comes down the valley to rattle our windows late at night.
If we say that we love winter for what she is, we must choose our words with care. Winter is a high-maintenance relationship. Winter asks much of us; sometimes too much of us. Winter asks if we are really going to wear that shirt with those pants, and then tells us to put on a sweater and a heavy coat. Winter knows that we are tired of shoveling snow and that we miss the beach. Winter tells us not to hate her for being beautiful, and we know she is right. Every year we try to tell winter that it’s over. Winter always takes us back.
Winter always takes us back. As children, we were instructed by winter in the difficult and delicate virtue of hope. In the heat of summer, we learned to look forward to the winter wind that would send us scurrying to the coat closet for our scarves and hats. In the autumn downpours and as the last leaves fell we learned to look forward to the first falling flakes of snow, slow at first, hesitant and shy, then a sudden flurry and a whirl of white to snare and captivate even the hardest of warm-weather hearts. We hoped for snow and we believed in its return, though we knew neither the day nor the hour. After the fire of the autumn leaves, it was a still small voice: and when it came, it was a gift as free and undeserved as the grace of God, and bearing the same trademark.
For winter is also the season of faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It is the season of the seven virtues and the school of wisdom. We were not made for winter; the garden of Eden was not a winter garden. Winter was made for us: as a trial, and as a test, and as a promise. Winter reminds us that we are fallen, and that we are weak. It reminds us that our existence is contingent on the music of the spheres and the mercy of God. To accept the mercy of God in all of its myriad and difficult forms is to begin to seek out and define the nature of our peculiar relationship with him, and to set ourselves on the road that leads to his country. If we would look for him, we might search for him as the three kings did, and find him in winter; in the time when he seems most willing to be found by us, though in the most unlikely of places. In spring, summer, and fall the world clamors for our attention, but winter says: quiet down. Listen up. Look beyond.
We love winter because we are not afraid to live in the past when it is our future also; because we are not afraid to give up what we will receive again; because faith, hope, and charity abide, these three, but the greatest of these is charity. We love winter because opposites attract, and because power is made perfect in weakness. We love winter because the first snowfall will make us all children again, if only for a day, and because we are not to vain to admit that we are also another year older than we were the last time around. We love winter because it is telling us our life, and because the next best thing to the Golden Age is the Silver Age.
Now we must be patient, for winter, like love, like snow, like grace, like the end of the world, will come in its own time and in its own way. Pray that it does not catch you without a hat. In the meantime: Quiet down. Listen up. Look beyond. Put on a sweater. Close the window, if you must, but don’t forget to glance out of it once in a while. Perhaps the first snowflakes are already on their way.