Finding Shalom in the Seasons

Never have I known more clearly that I am a lover of changing seasons than the Christmases we lived in Northern California. Everything I loved about the season seemed intrinsically tied to cold and snow, which makes sense, given my Michigan upbringing. The flocked trees available at the local Christmas tree stand were nothing like the winter trees I grew up with: towering evergreens, boughs heavy with fresh snow, their icy-glazed branches glittering in the rays of the winter sun. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that we left the lot with an unfrocked, beautifully green tree. The scent of pine soon filled our little apartment, but with no winter wonderland scene outside our window, even the hot chocolate we still drank while decorating felt all wrong.

It wasn’t only at Christmas that I felt the absence of the seasons, that just happened to be when it was most pronounced. There was a subtler disquiet and yearning within me year-round that I began to pay attention to. I remember clearly the day I stood on the playground at the school where I was a teacher, and thought “every single day feels the same out here…I am so tired of the same.” I didn’t feel at home in a place that wasn’t discernibly changing. Or maybe my body was remembering the painful dissonance between an environment that had a plastic veneer of uniformity, simulating perfection, and my deeply feeling younger self, who knew that reality was so much more complex.

The extreme seasonal weather shifts experienced in the Midwest feel like they mirror the reality of my inner world.

The dreariness of a gray, snow-turned-to-slushy-mud, late winter day is what depression feels like to me. The softness of a light breeze bending the slender stem of cheerful, yellow daffodils in springtime feels like hope: beauty, new life, bending but not breaking in the face of opposition. Hazy summer days filled with shouts of laughter and splashing water are the landscape of joy for me, playful and carefree. And yet, I can only take so much warmth before I am craving the refreshing coolness of autumn, the crisp air giving cause to bundle up in layers, the leaves beautifully demonstrating the glory to be found even in endings.

I was sitting around a table with several women a few weekends ago, each of us sharing what we had written in response to a prompt. There is something incredibly valuable in having others read our stories with us, adding their collective wisdom as they interpret what they hear and reflect it back to us. They noticed the experiential nature of everything I wrote about, a coming together of sorts that spoke of integration and wholeness, and a sense of shalom woven throughout. I took their words in, letting them settle in some deep place inside of me, knowing they landed as truth.

I was reminded again of the highly sensory way in which I take in and live in my world, and the ways I have learned to be highly attuned to the ebb and flow that come with changing seasons. I believe we experience not only the literal seasons of our physical environment, but also seasons in relationships, in our work and sense of purpose, in our spirituality and beliefs, in learning and openness to new ideas, in health and our ability to be fully embodied. This embodied experience of the changing seasons is not passive, it requires preparation and attention, a continual willingness to surrender to the rhythm of receiving and giving back, considering what needs to die in order for the new to be birthed.

The shalom my friends noticed is tender, new growth, born out of suffering, acceptance, hope, seasons I have experienced deeply, body and soul. For me, the connection between this changing internal reality and the ever-shifting reality of discernible seasons is comforting and familiar, it feels like home. And I suspect that home will always include snow-covered evergreens.

Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.