The first "real" day of winter arrived this week in Chicagoland. As a person who grow up in the Southern states, it's easy for me to get discouraged by cold temperatures and lack of sun. There are days in this season when the high temperature will be in the single digits. The wind chill drops that temperature by 10 degrees or more. The sun currently sets around 4:30pm, which means it's dark before I even get off work. For years the first thought I had when winter came was, "Ugh- how can I get out of here."
The season of Advent has also arrived in Chicagoland, as it has everywhere. Advent is a time in the Christian liturgical year which is marked by waiting, anticipating, and preparing. As I was growing up I mainly remember Advent as a time of eager anticipation. Christmas was coming- the lighting of candles in the Advent wreath was like a countdown timer, or like the ball dropping in Times Square to mark the New Year.
I've come to understand that Advent is a much more complicated season than that. There is eagerness, sure, in Advent, but there is also reflection, stillness, and recognition that all is not as it should be, or as it could be. There is a kind of mourning in Advent, which seems especially poignant and necessary in our world today. If the thought of Christmas makes you feel "less than," sad, or depressed, Advent is a season that recognizes and affirms those feelings. It makes room for sadness, even as it anticipates the promise of hope and love entering the world.
Perhaps you can see how this relates to the winter garden. It's easy to look at a garden in winter and see only dead plants: to mourn the lost summer splendor, or long for the Spring that is yet to come. Those feelings are only natural, and we naturally don't want to spend time in that place, physically or emotionally, for very long. But I'm slowly learning to be present in the garden as it is in this season. It is reminding me how necessary this season is to the life-cycle in the garden. The soil is resting and rejuvenating, storing up energy that will feed next year's growth. Many of the plants are not dead, but hibernating; it is as if the plants have turned inward, collecting their energy into their cores and roots. Other plants have died, but also gone to seed, and those seeds are abundant!
There is a beauty to be found in the garden in winter that is unlike the beauty to be found here in other seasons. It is a quiet beauty, seen in the starkness of the structures that are there, seen in the promise in the seeds, heard in the rustle of the grasses. These are small moments of beauty, to be sure, and I have to look for them. I have to lean in. But they are there, they are real, and they speak to me of hope. It is really the beauty and hope of Advent, and I think I need it now more than ever.
the studio chair
A place for me to ramble on when I need to take a break.