There are times when everything feels new, energizing and verdant; there are times when prospects seem in full bloom. There are times of changing colours, when life is comfortable and winding down. And then there are the times when nothing has colour -- our lives feel bleak, dark, cold and gray, as if something has died. We might even say we are in the winter of our life. In the words of the Old Testament sage, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” Tucked into this ancient folk song is a hopeful sentiment. We console ourselves and our friends that “this too shall pass, nothing lasts forever, this time next year things have got to be better.” Sometimes talk like this smacks of denial and avoidance -- superficial at best -- but other times it’s a desire to see life from a higher perch. Faith in something larger kicks in.
If you live anywhere close to north of the border, you’ll know what I mean by the winter blues. A big chunk of the year is spent steeling yourself against blustery winds and cold snaps, fighting the elements. Don’t get me wrong. There is a beauty that can’t be denied: pristine blues and whites, ice that crystallizes into nature’s artistry and the smell of snowy freshness accompanied by rosy cheeks from brisk outdoor play. Dare I say, even in the dark of winter when days are at their shortest, there is an occasion to be happy. A gift, a blessing.
This website edition asks the question “Are you happy?” and when I look at the seasons of my life with a passing glance I can make quick appraisals: winter – bad; summer, spring and fall – good. But when I sit a while and really ponder this question deeper memories emerge and I might even go as far as to say “I love winter.” Yes, I’ve grown to love the cold winter months. You might say that along with all the effort of trudging, bundling, and shovelling there is a blessing in disguise. This season has proven to be a season of contemplation -– good books, movies, slow cooking, slow living, time to let the reflections hibernate and recharge for the season of high energy down the road. All common seasonal assumptions aside I admit I feel grateful, thankful, and yes I feel happy for the winters in my life; for the faithful return of the actual season but also the times in my life where winter is the best possible descriptor of what is going on.
All this talk of winter when really what I had in mind for this website edition painting started with a summer snapshot of a cosmos flower. Where the idea of playing with this picture in light of the four seasons came from I don’t have a clue. The only thing I can think of is our recent Watershed study of the Beatitudes. How strange the thought of blessing and happiness coming from experiences of poverty, mourning, meekness, aloneness, persecution and isolation. How can this be? How can anyone be happy unless the sun is shining with nothing but blue skies?
It’s not an idea that is easily accessible. People look at you a little strange when you talk of happiness this way. Admittedly, it's a bit weird. All that pain and suffering has never and probably will never be something I naturally desire but there is something trustable about the source of those ideas. In the words of Jesus: “Happy are those who know they are poor, who mourn, who are humble.” Really happy are those who have experienced life in all its ups and downs, in the sweltering heat that saps us of our youthful verve, in the days when the seeds of our dreams fall onto hard ground and seem gone forever. Happy are those who feel the biting icy wind of death and happy are those who must start over, not knowing what’s to come because ultimately they will see God, be accompanied by God, be part of God. And so I paint my picture, with the simple inspiration of nature -– spring, summer, autumn and winter because in every part of our life, in every season we enter, there is always occasion to suffer. But as I’m slowly learning from my own life, and more importantly from being invited into discipleship and community with Christ, the promise of happiness is woven into every moment we are alive – moments that go from selfishness to service, moments that at first feel like loneliness but, with the presence of the Spirit become moments of community, moments that are perpetually in the process of transformation, not by my will and effort but by the desires of God’s will.
Too often I forget that I am blessed. I forget that encoded in the very DNA of the universe, at the very core of life, the everyday occurrences as well as the big once in a life-time moments, are the words that say: “You are Blessed and Yes you are Happy.” Words that come from the heart of God. When I listen and hear the heart of those words I can ask myself “Am I happy?” not out of worry and doubt but with the assurance of Christ, and he tells me, “Yes, you are.”