February. Who can think warm thoughts in February? It’s bleak, grey and hard to get through, despite its brevity. Margaret Atwood described February in a poem as the “month of despair, with a skewered heart in the centre.” I know what she means; I, too, come from Ottawa. But maybe it’s healthy to remember that poets like to exaggerate. Cold February might be less about grim despair than simply keeping going. In Old English, February was called kale-monath or cabbage month. It’s a month for persistence and daily, ordinary life.
In church this week, we listened to a passage from the Gospel of Luke about Jesus in the Temple as a child. There are so few stories in the scriptures about Jesus’ early days that we skip through his childhood and youth in the space between paragraphs. As a writer, I can understand the impulse. The central Gospel message comes to us through Jesus’ ministry, so why fill pages with stories of his home situation? And yet, as my eleven-year-old brought up at bedtime that night, most of Jesus’ life was spent with his family. Numerically, that’s where Jesus lived.
The sparseness of the written story leaves space for wonder. I wonder what those early years were like for Jesus’ family. What was it like to be a craftsman’s family in a small town? There’d be money worries, because there usually are. Would the next cart of wood delivered be a good one? Would there be enough new orders coming in to pay the bills? And then there would be the small accidents and injuries of home and workshop: a broken bowl, child’s splinter. Would his teeth grow in straight? Would that scar fade? And harder things, too: soldiers in the market, life under occupation. What kept them going when days felt cold and flat? What did that family hope for? There would be grand hopes like Simeon’s for the consolation of Israel, but smaller family longings, too. Would the cousins come to celebrate the holidays? Would there be a good crop of figs this year? Good weather for a birthday outing?
Hiding in plain sight
Jesus’ hidden years can remind us where we find God most of the time. Sometimes, God pulls us to the mountaintops and meets us in the remarkable, incandescent moments, but mostly, I think, God lives in the hidden things of our daily life. We laugh together and fold the laundry. We share a meal and feel at peace. We wipe the tabletop clean and the feel of clean wood reminds us of the tree that grew, the sunshine past, the roots that held firm in the wind, roots that hold us in every wind.
These small moments are the seeds of holiness, the kernels that grown into life as Love proclaims it. When we can find and cherish these seeds, we deepen and come to know the connectivity that sustains us.
Aldo Leopold, early twentieth-century American author and conservationist, wrote of the spiritual dangers of not owning a farm. He describes the risk as two-fold: without a farm, you might suppose that breakfast comes from a store and that heat comes from a furnace. To avoid the first, he suggests planting a garden, and for the second, he prescribes burning good oak in a fireplace while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. He writes: “If one has cut, split, hauled and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from.”
I don’t have a farm and don’t imagine I will, but I do have a table and a collection of chairs, a pot to fill and family and friends who gather. That is my garden-work and my firewood, my hidden daily life, my source of warmth. From small seeds, good things grow, and from persistence, praise.
“. . . as near is to far, as wind
is to weather,
as feather is to flight, as light
is to star,
as kindness is to good, so
acorn is to wood.”
From The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris
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