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Quote Unquote

‘In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.’

By David Giuliano

Winter — both climatic and metaphorical — comes whether we want it to or not, and it often overstays its welcome.

Mostly, I have enjoyed winter since moving to northwestern Ontario 28 years ago. I like to ski through the woods, or snowshoe. I explore the sparkling caves of ice along the shores of Lake Superior. I am in awe of the sharp blue sky on sunny days and the long purple shadows cast across the snow by the moon at night.

Last winter, however, was a spectacularly bone-crushing one. The temperature failed to climb above -25 C for a month. Snow fell in apocalyptic proportions. We scrunched down in our parkas like turtles and pressed our frozen foreheads to the wind. Our batteries froze. Our tires stayed square. Cracks snaked across our windshields. I skied on May 3, for crying out loud.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” The quote comes from the 1952 essay Return to Tipasa by Albert Camus, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Camus describes revisiting Tipasa, Algeria — a place of great joy in his youth — in his search for renewed inspiration and sense of purpose. He acknowledges that it is “sheer madness . . . to return to the sites of one’s youth and try to relive at forty what one loved or keenly enjoyed at twenty.” The essay begins with winter in Algiers — “which was for me [previously] the city of summers” — as rain streams down from “an apparently inexhaustible sky.” Camus is not writing about the weather in Return to Tipasa, but about his inner experience of feeling lost, disheartened and uninspired, and the longing to rekindle his passion for justice and meaning.

Here in Canada, where every conversation begins with the weather, the seasons are perfect metaphors by which to contemplate one’s spiritual journey. In her Courage to Lead Seasonal Retreats, Mardi Tindal, my partner in writing this column (she’ll fill this spot next month), invites participants to listen to the seasons speaking to our lives.

There are times when life feels like winter — Canadian, not Algerian, winter. And not the kind of winter that finds your spirit carving down Whistler or soaking in hot springs on a starry night of the soul. Here I am speaking of the bleak mid-winter: frozen, still, lifeless. Times when a monochromatic blanket descends upon us. Times when we feel stuck in drifts of failure, boredom or exhaustion. Times when we are spiritually acquainted with the barrenness of winter. Times when our tires are spinning and we wonder if spring will ever come.

At these times, I pray that I can trust the winter the way a tree trusts the seasons: above ground, trees are fully dormant in winter, but beneath the frozen soil their roots are storing energy, gaining strength and even growing — all in order to sustain the observable life of the tree. During the winters of my soul, I want to slow down — just like the visible part of the tree — and trust in the invincible and invisible summer at work within me.

There are those who get out into winter. And there are those who barricade themselves inside against it. Those who embrace, rather than resist, winter tend to enjoy it more.

While we cannot control when it will end, we can welcome the invitation of the winters of life to slow down, pay attention to the unique beauty of the season, get out into it, share a bowl of soup with friends, rest more and trust the invincible summer within.

Very Rev. David Giuliano is a former United Church moderator and a minister with St. John’s United in Marathon, Ont.

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