Winter Leader Retreat: Finding Warmth and Light in the Darkness
Written by Mara Bowman
Winter and I are in an intense love/hate relationship. The first snow fall is so transcendentally beautiful and I love to stare up at the sky watching the intricate flakes fall down. For me, it’s magical in December along with the Christmas season. But once mid-January rolls around I’ve had about enough. I could say goodbye to snow and below zero temperatures that make your eyes water and your face hurt. I could do without the never-ending darkness that starts at 4:30pm. Any mention of weather, winter or venturing outdoors is accompanied with bitterness and a groan.
Over this past weekend 14 LCM servant leaders traveled to ARC retreat center—a tranquil cabin nestled in the woods—to recharge for the upcoming semester and engage in conversations about ways to shape our community. After driving through heavy snowfall, we were greeted by trees trimmed with the dusting of fresh snow, and I was filled with such a sense of comfort and peace as I sat with a warm cup of tea staring out the window.
A few brave LCMers decided to venture out into the freezing temps. It was still steadily snowing, and we wandered through the woods (Luckily for us the snowfall didn’t cover our tracks before we decided to turn around…). A winter hike reminded me of the ways I do appreciate this time of year and how thankful I am for a warm house to be cozy. It almost seemed that extremes—such as ridiculously low temperatures—enabled me to celebrate and relish in the warmth. At a time of year when Minnesotans bond over continuously complaining about the weather, it can help us remember that amidst cold temperatures and decreasing daylight, we experience the beauty of winter along with feeling gratitude for the warmth or comfort of being indoors with loved ones.
Even so, it can be hard to ignore the bite of a numbingly cold wind. It can be easy to allow the darkness to have the last word.
The summer after my junior year in high school I went spelunking, or trekking through a cave, on a camping trip. At one portion of the caves, the guide instructed everyone to turn off their flashlights. We were at a dark point where no light could enter, and the blackness seemed to swallow us up. At first, my eyes continued searching for light, as my pupils adjusted, it felt like my eyes were convulsing—not actually I’m just being a little bit dramatic. After a while in the blackened space, my eyes stopped adjusting. My eyes stopped seeking light to make sense of my surroundings.
Similarly, when we surround ourselves with narratives of darkness, or hopelessness, we eventually stop looking for the light. It’s as if we adjust to feeling weighed down by the destruction of a violent world, and we forget to be bearers of light. We learn to expect negativity, rather than hope, when we can in fact be people who bring hope!
In the book of Acts, people realize that even though Jesus has returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit continues to be God’s presence in the world working through all people; including me, and whoever happens to be reading this. One verse particularly filled me with a sense of peace: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices, and my body also will rest in hope…you will not abandon me…you have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Acts 2:26-28).
The Holy Spirit works through each of us, as people who can bring hope and light to the communities we are in, on any scale big or small. When I scroll through my phone I see CNN headlines pop up, and they are 9 times out of 10, negative. I see negativity and destruction in our world. Hunger and violence. Despair and hopelessness. But yet, I must rejoice, trusting in God that our stories ultimately lead to light and justice. Even though we focus on darkness, remember that through the power of the Holy Spirit we are bearers of light: spreading love, joy and positivity throughout the world.
// “For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” //
Peace and love to you as you bear witness to God’s incredible love—sharing hope and light with anyone you meet.