“In the bleak midwinter. frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” I look at the words of this old hymn and discover it was written by one of my favourite poets, Christina Rossetti. I guess even in Victorian England she knew what it was to watch the snow endlessly falling, and feel overwhelmed by winter.
So many people are feeling like that these days. Despite the wonderful winter sun, reflecting off the mountains of snow on our deck, the cozy heat inside, cheery plans for Christmas, gratitude for so much that I have, I can be overcome by winter’s intensity. Yes, I am learning to embrace it, and love it, and to do more outdoor activities, after many years of winter in milder climes. I remind myself, in this eighth winter in Muskoka, that every Christmas in Uganda I felt strange, that I often shrunk from the intensity of the heat there, and longed for the changing seasons, the brilliance of fall, the sweetness of spring. When I lived in Scotland, or in British Columbia, I adjusted to the rain and dark days, and missed the brightness of winter snow in Ontario. So now I have lots and lots of it, and I am learning to love it.
Nevertheless, I think of what winter does to so many people, bringing extra hardship, perhaps even death with inadequate heat, or, at worst, by exposure through no place to stay, even on the streets of Toronto. I think of people sleeping on the vents in the sidewalks on Queen St., their sleeping blankets and bags left there for the day. How many people dread winter just because of the depression that will come? My own inner struggles open my heart to such people.
This is one treasure of darkness, of bleakness, to the extent that I know it. I wrote on July 30th of how God had spoken to me about such treasures, years ago when we went through many harsh things in Uganda. I find in today’s reading in Streams in the Desert, that Mrs. Charles E. Cowman also took those words from Isaiah 45:3 as a rhema word from God to her heart. No surprise, given all the meditations in her precious books. As so often, the excerpts she shares from others speak profoundly to us all, across the years, and the differences in our circumstances, for we are all united in our understanding of suffering.
“In the famous lace shops of Brussels, there are certain rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate patterns. These rooms are altogether darkened, save for a light from one very small window, which falls directly upon the pattern. There is only one spinner in the room, and he sits where the narrow stream of light falls upon the threads of his weaving. Thus’, we are told by the guide,’do we secure our choicest products. Lace is always more delicately and beautifully woven when the worker himself is in the dark and only his pattern is in the light.’
May it not be the same with us in our weaving? Sometimes it is very dark. We cannot understand what we are doing. We do not see the web we are weaving. We are not able to discover any beauty, any possible good in our experience. Yet if we are faithful and faint not, we shall some day know that the most exquisite work of all our life was done in those days when it was so dark.
If you are in the deep shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid. Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting, God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears. “ J.R. Miller.
The shuttles of His purpose move
To carry out His own design;
Seek not too soon to disapprove
His work, nor yet assign
Dark motives, when, with silent tread,
You view some somber fold:
For lo, within each darker thread
There twines a thread of gold.
He knows the way you plod;
But love the thread with God.
(from The Canadian Home Journal)