“You can do this hard thing. It’s not easy, I know. But I believe that it’s so. You can do this hard thing.” —Carrier Newcomer (song lyrics, The Beautiful Not Yet)
“The prayers and teachings of the ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.” —Grandmothers Counsel the World (author Carol Schaefer)
For those of us in winter climates, the December landscape can be cold, harsh, gray, and forlorn. We feel the loss of sunlight and seek shelter with friends or family members by the warmth of a fire. We bake bread, cook a big pot of soup, drink hot cocoa, and adorn our homes with bright, colorful lights. We gather for the holidays. We share gifts. And we offer gratitude for ordinary miracles.
In the midst of winter, most of us do what we can to endure hardships and to help one another. Hard work is required as we shovel paths through deep snow, haul wood, prepare meals, light fires, and tend to the sick – each of us knowing we must do our part, however small, to ensure the survival of all.
During inclement conditions, there is no time for despair.
So, how do we forge ahead in these challenging times?
Some of us hold firmly to the teachings of the man whose birth we celebrate. He preached radical love for the poor, the sick, and the outcasts among us. We model his actions. We see the miracle in each newborn child. We understand the light of the stars will guide our way. We believe the kingdom of heaven is within. And we practice opening our hearts and our homes to people we find suffering along the path.
Others look to the earth for her lessons. With roots buried far below the frozen surface, we understand from nature how to slow down and go deep within in preparation for winter storms as well as in anticipation of spring, knowing that young tender shoots and beautiful blossoms will indeed return. Nature is our sanctuary. Despite outside appearances, we recognize that the earth and her creatures are alive. We place humans among the family of creation, treating each relative (animal, fish, bird) with respect. We know our wellbeing depends upon the wellbeing of our earth home. We treat the earth as sacred.
And still others turn to the luminous wisdom of poetry, music, pottery, dance, drumming, and painting. Our hearts seek comfort from things of beauty. We find solace in metaphors, stories, prayers, and songs. We gain strength from those creative souls who remind us, again and again, why we are here. They show us that we can do this hard thing: We can get up each day, do our work in this world, and stay awake to both our sorrow and our joy.
Whatever our circumstance, we are always being asked to love. Not just love in words. But love in a thousand daily acts: Love when the way is unclear and the outcome uncertain. Love when the road is steep, rocky, and littered with debris. Love when our soul aches with silent anguish. Love when harsh voices clamor for hate. Love when self-interest says: it’s too risky, too costly, and too difficult. Love when all seems lost. Love, when love is the only thing we have left to give.
Even in the depths of winter, our hearts grow stronger. With the radiant glow of each sunrise, we know what we must do: Gather together and love, even more.
In joy & gratitude,
Diana J. Ensign