by Fr. Tom Welk, C.PP.S., Leadership Team Member
I am writing this during the first week of April. The calendar says it should be warmer. Didn’t it say spring arrived on March 20? But the temperature this morning was still below freezing here in southern Kansas. It seems as if winter just does not want to let go. As has been voiced many times: “Will winter never end!?” In many parts of the country it has been a harsh winter. “Will this cold never end!?”
We know, of course, that eventually winter will give way to spring, and not just on the page of a calendar. New life is already poking through the still somewhat cool soil. It won’t be long before there is an abundance of new life in the world of nature. We know also that not too far down the road we will be asking, “Will this heat never end?”
Such it is in the world of nature.
So it can also be in our lives. There can be some very wintry times. The darkness can be overwhelming. For some it can be so overwhelming, they decide life is no longer worth living. Will the darkness never end? Why even try to keep going? There is nothing worse than despair.
It is still the Lenten season as I write this article. The word Lent is from the Anglo-Saxon word lengthen, “to make longer”; it is the Old English word for spring. During this time of the year the days become longer. The darkness of winter is giving way to ever-increasing light.
A ritual we engaged in every year during my childhood years on a North Dakota farm was spring housecleaning. It was quite a cleaning! No item or room in the house was spared this cleaning.
Liturgically, Lent is a time of waiting; a time of preparation. It is a time for some personal housecleaning; a time to prepare for the gift of new life at Easter. In our hearts we know that new life cannot grow within us without making room. Lenten disciplines are intended to clean out those places that have become stale and old.
No matter how cold, harsh, dark, and long the winter may be spring tells us that new life is right around the corner. The stale and old are being overcome.
In the wider world of our deeper experiences we also need reminders that when things seem unendingly hopeless, stale and old, new life is possible.
Easter is that reminder. Jim Wallis wrote in Sojourners on April 3, 2014, “No matter what happens, or what seems to be in control, or how politically hopeless things seem to be, or how oppressive the state of the world is, how endless the suffering of the most vulnerable in the world seems to be—or despite how the painful realities in our own lives, families, or health occupy our heart and minds—Christians will affirm on Easter morning, ‘He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.’ And then we go on living in that hope, which is the only thing that ever changes our lives or the world.”
Many of the hospice patients I work with find the challenges of a terminal illness difficult to bear. There is no easy, simple, or magical way to make these challenges go away. What I have found is that patients are able to deal with their pain and suffering in a better way if they can find meaning in them. Not finding meaning in pain and death can lead to a profound suffering of despair. No one can live without hope.
Liturgically, this can be likened to the great feasts we celebrate as Christians at this time of the year: Good Friday and Easter. Good Friday is about winter; it is about death. Easter relates to spring; it is about new life. There can be no new life without letting go of the stale and the old. There can be no Easter without a Good Friday. Good Friday without an Easter makes no sense.
As a religious community espousing a spirituality of the blood of Christ, we are constantly called to live in this tension: letting go to have more. Letting go is not easy; we all know that. Letting go with no meaning can only lead to despair.
The cycle of the seasons (especially winter and spring) in the world of nature can teach us a great lesson. As new life springs up all around us, let us be reminded in the midst of whatever struggles and challenges we may have that these winter moments of our lives will eventually give way to new life within us.
Yes, this winter season seems like it has been interminably long. Take courage; it is coming to an end. At times it seems our struggles and the resulting darkness seem interminably long. Take courage; they, too, will come to an end.
May your hope spring eternal.