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Winter always feels long when you’re in the midst of it. To me, days filled with cold and wind and snow sometimes feel like they are stretching into eternity. There comes a time in almost every winter when I remember the scene in “Dr. Zhivago,” of Yuri walking across the Russian desert of ice and snow. Wandering alone, he calls out to a small ragged group of people he believes to be his family, only to find that they are strangers with whom he has nothing in common except desperation.
New England winters can be tough, but not on a Siberian scale. And although February never seems like the shortest month of the year to me, there are plenty of signs to the contrary. A few warmer days here or there; a discernibly earlier sunrise or later sunset; the sound of birds: all testify to the truth that winter will pass, indeed, is passing. Snow eventually turns to rain, and the buds of leaves return to the branches of trees. The straight-lined starkness of winter disappears, and harsh extremes are softened at the edges of the day.
The other day I saw in the distance, across the lake, three white birds flying towards our house. As they flew closer, I began to ask myself if perhaps the swans were returning. Indeed, they were. There is nothing so majestic as swans in flight. The winter may not be completely over, but they have moved to their summer home nonetheless. I wish it was that simple for me to move beyond where I am, and into a place where I trust where I will be.
I long for spring; not just its promise, but its arrival. And that longing, I think, is something deep in the human soul, something God has imprinted there as an abiding hope for heaven. When all is said and done, even the best of earthly lives is not good enough. I don’t mean to say that we should not be grateful, or that we have nothing to be grateful for. On the contrary, I believe that what should inspire the most gratitude in us is yet to come.
Our lives here are only a glimmer of what they can be, that is what they will be, on the other side of death. Winter just reminds us how cold the human heart often is, how unforgiving we can be towards one another and even towards ourselves. Winter reveals how dark our days are when celestial warmth is shortened or obscured. And winter shows us too, not only how much of a struggle life is, but how quickly that struggle melts with the coming of spring.
The spring that comes to the human heart is the promise of God we call salvation. It can be experienced here, but not yet in fullness. Salvation’s spring is what gives us hope when the wintry winds of this world blow hard enough to make trees sway. The salvation we find in Christ Jesus is the warm sun under which we know without a doubt that snows will recede and flowers bloom. We long for spring because we cannot bring it ourselves. We long for spring because the history of humanity has been largely lived in the winter of sin; a winter filled with long nights, and pathless stretches of frozen snow-covered terrain. Jesus came to walk these frozen ways with us. He surrendered himself to the icy grasp of hatred and fear. And when he accepted the cold embrace of death on a leafless tree, he became the Eternal Spring that will one day raise not only his body from the dead, but us--body and soul--from the grave as well.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.