Catholic Voices - Weathering the winter of the soul

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Winter is whispering its presence in nature all around us. Knowing that it will pass, we endure the cold weather and icy roads because the hope of springtime spurs us on. 

It’s a beautiful thing, this turning of the seasons. The seeds are planted in springtime, flourish, yield fruit which is harvested, and then the earth lies fallow, restoring nutrients to the soil and lying in wait for the new cycle to begin. In the cold earth there is unseen growth and change happening.

Yet we object to this cycle in our own lives. We resist the natural rhythms of the interior life and want to stake our tent firmly in the soft, yielding grounds of spring and summer and stay there forever. We praise God for hopeful inspirations. For sweet consolations. For the abundant harvest of spiritual gifts.

We run away from the spiritual winter. We protest when God removes the sensation of his presence. We cry out in anguish and wonder what’s wrong. What did I do to deserve this? Let me just hear your voice! Let me know your presence! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The same words Jesus cried out in the final hours of his life, during the winter of his soul that would bring his work to completion.

“Ellie Peck
Ellie Peck

Where would we be without that winter? What if Christ had run away from the cold sting of his Father’s absence? He had to see it through. He chose love.

Believe in love

Believing in love is the only way to survive the spiritual elements. We have to expect a rhythm in our soul, with seasons of inspiration, consolation, fruition and desolation. If we are constantly chasing the summer of the soul, our sanctification cannot mature properly, and we will be spiritually stunted.

The sense of God’s presence will leave you — you can be sure of it if you are progressing in the spiritual life, and we should try our hardest to close our eyes to the emptiness and the darkness and simply stay the course. Receive the sacraments, with or without enthusiasm. Move your lips in prayer, even if without devotion and while battling distractions, but with the invaluable virtue of perseverance. Our sentiments don’t matter, but our faithfulness does.

The rhythm will always continue in a soul that is healthy. Indeed, the darkness is a sure sign, not that something is wrong with us, but that something is incredibly right. God is moving in our souls unseen. He asks us to love him more deeply.

Hold your flame

There’s an old quote that comforted me greatly as a military wife enduring my husband’s long deployments: “Distance is to love what wind is to fire — it extinguishes the small and enkindles the great.” So it is with our feelings of distance from God.

Some winters will be easy; you just have to push through a few weeks of dryness or distraction. Some winters will be hard, even brutal. They may last months or even years. The emptiness and pain and bitter isolation will ache, and the storm may threaten to steal the roof off your heart and hurl in a torrent of doubt and despair.

Hold your flame through the darkness, regardless of how you feel. Turn your face to Mary. Appeal to the saints who have gone through this before you and are waiting, arms outstretched, to welcome you on the other side.

God’s love is as great for you now as it is in the warm summertime of the soul. Through every winter, the new life of spring is promised. The Son will rise in the east, and if you can hold tight and trust through your doubts, he will greet you on the other side with words that will fall like honey from his lips: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Ellie Peck is a member of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bremerton.

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