Today, the day I write this, my wife took me to the places of her daily walk. Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, but Winter is already in retreat here – though today’s sunny walk still required we bundle up with scarves, gloves, and stocking caps. Her walking path took us to the edge of town past what I assume is an irrigation ditch that is swollen to nearly a full blown river right now! I walked down to stand on the very edge, and the sound of the water flowing was like a chorus of little bells… so beautiful, the most moving music I’ve heard in a long time – and I’m not waxing poetic, I mean this sincerely. It was music, and I wanted to sing along.
I met with a friend in Minneapolis a couple of days ago who was talking about how grateful he was that Spring was upon us and how much he hates Winter. This is par for the course in any conversation between two Minnesotans, but I told him I didn’t feel that way this year. Part of it, I told him, was that I’ve been gone from home so much on tours of the south that the winter cold was refreshing and invigorating to me this year. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Even today as Taya and I were walking she said: “I’m glad Spring is coming, but I’m happy it’s not here yet – I love this cold.” “I agree” is what I said. “I love it.”
And yet I also feel full with the promise of Spring, too, and my heart wanted to sing along with the chiming of the water newly set free. I wrote a song last year about this time with a lyric for the season: the frozen rivers run / the death of winter comes undone / whispers of Kingdom Come / as the Bluebird sings / that everything sad is coming untrue…
I believe this truth – that “springtime” redemption is hardwired into the way the world works and is at the heart of our best stories. Everything sad is coming untrue. But these days I’ve been thinking of another truth, too, and that is that the Winter isn’t always the villain we make it out to be – even in Minnesota. It sometimes has its own redemptive part to play in these stories.
Winter in Minnesota is like a war of attrition that tests the mettle of those who live in its shadow. We brace ourselves for it every year as it slowly overwhelms and buries every green thing deep within its icy chest, killing off all but the heartiest of living things. The old timers talk of past winters almost like they were badges of honor, speaking of them endearingly with a reverent kind of pride. It is the pride of survivors, I guess. Jacob wrestled with an angel and it crippled him, but don’t imagine for a moment that he didn’t love this Angel Of The Lord – even for wounding him – and look back upon their meeting with a kind of gratitude. That’s what a Minnesota winter is like, and the deeper it wounds us, the more we respect it, and the more famous it becomes in our story.
I find myself locked in a wintry wrestling match of sorts. The greatest danger of our winters here is overexposure, and there is a winter that has come to my soul that has exposed areas of brokenness, sinfulness, and self-deceit, to bring them to light. And though I’m happy to see them for what they are and am eager to be rid of them, they don’t die easily. I recently read a facebook status that said: “Whatever is alive is going to fight to stay alive . . . including my delusions!”
But I believe that there is a heartier form of life that wants to have its way in me, and in my best moments I can hear the steady pulse of a heartbeat that is stronger than my own, and it gives me a quiet assurance. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” is one way the apostle Paul might say it. Another might be: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
This Winter season of my soul has left me feeling naked and exposed in the bitter cold of my own sin and selfishness. My first instinct was to run for shelter – I was desperate for it, but the Lord provided none. In my fear, I resented him and accused him of abandoning me, but I have since come to see it as his great kindness. You see, I’m not strong enough to uproot these weeds that have grown up in my life to choke every good thing. I don’t know how to kill them, but I think the winter does.
“So let the winter come,” I say. “Let it do its worst and let’s see what survives.” Some days I fear it, but there are more days now when I trust it. At first I thought it would lead to death, but when I quiet myself and listen, beneath the sound of the blustery winter winds, I have heard that heart beat underneath it all, a life living inside of me sustaining what needs to live, bringing enough warmth to keep it alive.
This cold winter has become dear to me, and I can imagine me talking like the old timers around here, sharing my own survivor story – “remember the Winter of 2010? Now that was a cold one that I thought would kill me.” But it didn’t. It hasn’t – not completely anyway. In fact, it might save me. And these are my thoughts as I stand on the edge of this newly freed water that is running, rushing to find its way to some deep underground gathering place where it will nourish the land and find its purpose. The sound of this water is like music to my ears, and it’s a beautiful song that I want to sing along with, but with one qualification:
“Amen! Spring come quickly! But let Winter finish its work first…”
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".