Hello dear friends,
(Due to some extended family illnesses, I have been unable to post until now. But I have been thinking of you all and holding you in my heart and prayer.)
Winter is a challenge for me — especially February. Although it’s the shortest month, February days seem to slog so slowly towards March, as if trudging through knee-deep snow or mud. On February 2nd the groundhog did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring, but I find little comfort in such forecasts.
Shadow or not, by mid-February, I often begin to feel deeply sensitive to the suffering all around me, both in my own smaller circle of loved ones, and in the larger world. I feel increasingly exposed and vulnerable. My first instinct is to hibernate until spring like the groundhog we suspect spends his “winter vacations” under our deck. And I have many long conversations — more like debates 🙂 — with God about the purpose of life and suffering. God never says much but sometimes points out the magical beauty of a tree encased in ice shining in moonlight, or the sweet morning song of a Carolina wren.
This year I thought I was ahead of the game. I had planned to take an online course (something fun to learn!), saved long and luxurious books to read during dark winter evenings, bought beautifully soft and colorful yarns to create soft throws and scarves, stocked up on wonderfully fragrant candles, and had an abundance of happy family events to celebrate.
Still… it happened again… With little advance notice, sorrow and suffering arrived at my heart’s doorstep, entered boldly — without permission — and scattered their belongings everywhere like unwelcome guests. Although they are frequent and familiar winter-guests, their arrival always catches me off guard.
As I pray with this winter’s particular vulnerability, I’ve begun to wonder if there might be a different way of relating to unavoidable vulnerability. I do not want to live closed off – inside an armor of self-protection (if that were even possible). I understand there is suffering in life — it just is — and I want to lean in with compassion to those who are suffering, including myself.
Recently I read an essay on vulnerability in David Whyte’s book Consolations which inspires me to view vulnerability with more openness and hope:
Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusionary privilege and perhaps the prime and most beautifully constructed conceit of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.
I want to “become larger and more courageous and more compassionate” through my own “intimacy with disappearance.” I’m sensing it is a critical spiritual task of this threshold of my life — learning how to “inhabit vulnerability as (a) generous citizen of loss, robustly and fully.” I am wondering what this even looks like – but I am curious, and will try to let that wonder and curiosity lead me…
In light of all of our continuing arrivals, threshold by threshold, I share with you the following video by Carrie Newcomer, entitled “The Point of Arrival.” Just as the snowdrop flower (in the above header image) opens, step by step, to the fullness of its blossoming, so may God’s grace give us all courage to open to our truest blossoming.