“Listening to Winter”: The Spiritual Practice of Hope

On December 21st I attended a Winter Solstice celebration at a local Unitarian church. It’s become an annual ritual for me—an acknowledgment of the long, dark winter and the wisdom and beauty this season holds. I was so moved by a poem that was read aloud during the program that I requested permission to share it here.

Macrina Wiederkehr’s “Listening to Winter” (reprinted below) reminds me that there is no light without darkness, no growth without pain, no faith without doubt, no hope without despair. I imagine I am not alone in feeling some measure of hopelessness about the state of the world, and the stance of the LDS Church when it comes to LGBTQIA+, women’s, and children’s issues. Many of us are working tirelessly to advocate for the vulnerable in our country, communities, and church despite what can feel like insurmountable opposition. And yet, sitting in the candlelit reverence of this year’s Winter Solstice gathering I felt a seed of hope growing inside me. This poem and the image above of purple tulips rising up from the cold, snowy earth are things I am holding onto this winter.

I may not live to see the changes I long to see in the world, and in the church that I love. But for the next few months I want to engage in the spiritual practice of “listening [for] sparks of hope within the darkness” and “a beauty that sometimes remains unseen.”

“Listening to Winter” by Macrina Wiederkehr

The trees have shed their colorful autumn robes.
Winter is raging through the dark, empty branches
and I am listening.
I am listening to the roar and to the quiet of winter.
I am listening to a beauty that sometimes remains unseen.

I am listening.

I am listening to the seed hidden in the earth.
I am listening to the dark swallowing up the light.
I am listening to faith rising out of doubt.
I am listening to the need to believe without seeing.

I am listening.

I am listening to the season of contemplation,
to the urgency of our world’s need for reflection.
I am listening to all that waits within the earth,
to bulbs and seeds,
to deep roots dreaming.
I am listening to the sacred winter rest.

I am listening.

I am listening to long nights,
comforting darkness,
fruitful darkness,
beautiful darkness.
I am listening to the darkness of the winter season.
I am listening to the sparks of hope within the darkness.

I am listening.

I am listening to storms raging out my window,
to storms raging in my heart.
I am listening to all that makes me pull my cloak a little tighter.
I am listening to trust buried deep in the ground of my being.

I am listening.

I am listening to the kind permission of the season
to rest more often,
to reflect more deeply,
to pray without words.
I am listening to the sacrament of non-doing.

I am listening.

I am listening to my dreams and inner visions,
to the unknown wrapped in the mystery of my life,
to tears trapped in underground streams of my being,
to seeds watered daily by those tears.

I am listening.

I am listening to the quiet life in winter’s womb.
I am listening to winter, nurturing spring.
I am listening to brilliant winter sunsets
and lovely frosty mornings.
I am listening to snowflakes flying through the air,
to the cold winds that often blow out there,
to bare trees, so lovely in their emptiness,
to one leaf that never did let go.

I am listening.

I am listening to winter
handing over to spring.
I am listening to the poetry of winter.

I am listening.


[Image: “Flowers & Snow,” Kate J, Flickr]


Wendy has had multiple lives, figuratively speaking, but she likes the one she's living now the most.

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7 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    I love, love, love this, Wendy. Thanks for sharing. I’m bookmarking this so I can read it over and over again.

  2. Bryan says:

    Great post. So nice to be reminded that when things seem at their darkest — in the seasons of earth or the seasons of our lives — it means that the pendulum is about to swing back toward the light.

    • Wendy says:

      Thanks, Bryan! It’s been my experience that the light eventually reappears in my life, but I’m aware of others who have not have that experience—when winter beats on endlessly—so I want to honor that journey as well.

  3. Melody says:

    Years ago I wrote a poem – wondering aloud if trees fear death – because winter seems to bring them to the brink. As I wrote, the trees answered: they don’t fear death because they know God. (and the implicit seasons of light and darkness within their own existence.)

    I want to be like those trees.

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful words. I’m with Liz. I’m saving this one.

    • Wendy says:

      I want to be like those trees too, Melody! And I REALLY want to read your poem about them. Would you mind sharing it here with us?

  4. Em says:

    I like the idea of peace in listening. Part of the heartsickness is from the endless clamor of voices — people asking for help unheeded, and above all people talk, talk, talking without helping, or meaning anything, or speaking truth. You just want silence sometimes. But I don’t think I ever really want silence — the TOTAL absence of sensory input. I want to hear the water drops, or the breeze, or birds, or all the quiet noises of winter.

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