“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power” (Saint Pope John Paul II)
Once again, winter is upon us here in Michigan. The trees are leafless and the amount of sunlight has drastically declined. By dinner time it seems that we are already engulfed in physical darkness. And as it gets colder it seems as if we spend most of our time indoors. Under all of these circumstances it probably is not that unusual that some of us begin to experience a type of mild depression or malaise known as “seasonal affective disorder” (a/k/a the winter blahs).
I believe it is important and helpful under these circumstances to maintain contact with the beauty of nature, and that such contact with God’s creation enhances our mental well-being and outlook. Father Irala, in his popular book, Achieving Peace of Heart, tells us that “we must live beauty.” He maintains that we need to be “reeducated” to “receive the external world.” This priest tells us that we need to learn to let “beauty enter deep into us.” Please refer to my previous post
Now maintaining this essential and curative contact with nature is fairly easy in spring, summer and fall, but how do we carry it out in the dead of winter? Some people head down to Florida for a while!, but many of us have to endure the cold and dark winter season.
My basic recommendation is that we should become highly cognizant of the fact that we need to maintain contact with the beauty of nature during the dead of winter. Some people ski, or snow-mobile, or do other outside activities that place them directly in the beauty of winter. But many of us look at winter as something to endure, to get through, until finally the weather becomes more bearable. If, like me, you fall into this latter category, then you run the risk of being cut off from the mental well-being contact with nature provides. Thus, it is essential that we hibernating types take positive steps to maintain contact with nature during the winter months. Here are some ideas that may help.
The other day it was dark and only 12 degrees Fahrenheit as I stepped outside at 6 am to get into my car, but I stuck to a ritual I have of momentarily looking up at the sky to glance at the stars. I probably spent less than 25 seconds looking up at the beauty of the firmament (yes, some days there are no stars, but most days there are!), and I then said a short prayer praising God for His Infinite Beauty, and then I got into my car and turned the heat on! But there you go: even though it was very cold I made some minimal contact with the beauty of God’s creation.
Another ritual I utilize in the winter is to open the top half of an upstairs window and to peer out meditatively – as the cold air brushes up against my face – at the sky, or at an evergreen covered with snow, or merely at the breadth of the world outside as it presents itself. The point is that this simple exercise assures me of some contact with the beauty of nature in a palpable, less attenuated, manner. Keep in mind that the sky is an eminent (though frequently overlooked) source of beauty. Today the sun was out, along with a beautiful blue sky and billowing white clouds. The sky – even in winter – can be a source of profound beauty, a reflection of God’s grandeur (and yes, I realize that there are many days when the sky is dreary and depressing, so we must take advantage of the good days!). And since the winter blues seem directly related to a lack of sunlight, be sure to get outside when the sun is shining! Sunshine makes us happy.
But most importantly (even if the sun isn’t shining): get outside! Snow is very beautiful. Look at the snow. Study its beauty. As Father Irala says, train yourself to receive in the influx of nature’s beauty. If you walk a trail in summer, why not give it a try in winter! And when the snow falls and lands like countless ice-cycles on the barren trees, making them shine like a festival of heavenly lights, you can say in those immortal words of the poet: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Glory be to God for winter!
Note: Photo by Bridget Mulcahy following an ice storm last winter. Winter doesn’t begin until December 21st, but here in Michigan we’ve already had a major snow fall (and the high today is a mere 16 degrees Fahrenheit), so its winter already! I wrote this post last winter.
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