EVERYPLACE: Deepening Spirituality


Meditation on the winter of the soul by Lesley

Earlier this year I enjoyed watching Gardeners World: Life in a Cottage Garden in which the infectious Carol Klein shared her enthusiasm of the changing seasons within her beautiful cottage garden in  North Devon.

The first episode journeyed through the cold winter months that we face as the Christmas celebrations cease and we enter the dark chapter of a new year. Her garden is large, nestled comfortably within the Devonshire countryside, surrounded by hedgerows, old red brick walls and wonderful vistas of the barren hills and bare trees hidden far away in the landscape. Her pretty red bricked cottage is nested to one corner of the garden as if burrowed into the scene for a winters hibernation. All the plants were browned and the place looked overgrown with its covering of dead grasses, fallen twigs and branches that had already experienced the harshness of an early winter, enduring weeks of being hidden beneath a frozen blanket of frost and snow. On some days the scene was such that every living thing was coated in white crystals that glittered in the low midday sun, long shadows casting their weight over the half hidden pathways and over the fields beyond. It looked an impossible task to turn this frozen wasteland of overgrown deadwood into a place of beauty and new life. And yet Carol was full of hope and excitement. For she knew that every year, for the past 30 years, this garden that appeared dead, would gradually burst into a festival of life and colour. That in just a few months time, when the days were longer and the sun warmer, her cottage garden would be an abundance of colour; a celebration of new growth .

I am learning that this too is the story of our lives; for each of us is like a garden in the mansion grounds of Gods creation. We all experience seasons of growth and abundance as well as seasons of darkness and emptiness. It is the cycle of growth that we need to learn to embrace; that to truly blossom and bear fruit, growth has to happen in the hidden places, beneath the soil of our lives, in the hard times as well as the good.

At times I am aware that my soul is a landscape of dull greys and browns, that the shadows are long and the darkness seems endless, wrapping itself around every part of my landscape. At times like these I often find myself wearing dark colours, as if to try and hide myself away, unnoticed as I am ashamed of how empty my landscape appears. And yet it is during these times of stripping back and vulnerability that growth of the inner self, the true self tends to happen. For if we are called to imitate Christ it is inevitable that we will also have to embrace the cross, for it is through the wounds that Christs love and healing enters us. It is essential for us, during these seasons, to learn to befriend the energies of suffering and fear, both within ourselves and within our world, so that as Teilhard de Chardin suggests, we would, in an instant, be transformed.

Whilst embracing the lessons of the winter months in our lives we also need to hold onto the promise of hope, as Carol Klein did in her cottage garden, looking through the eyes of someone who knows with absolute certainty of the potential growth and fruit that is hidden within the barren scene. We need to hold onto the vision of God for a renewed heaven and earth, to grasp something of his vision and designs for our lives, for what he, as the head gardener is shaping and growing in each of us and in his overall design of creation. He will bring full restoration, growth and stunning beauty to the landscape of my life and to this world. That is what his unfolding story tells us, that piece by piece, he gently tends to his creation, drawing all things to himself, until all is completed. He knows the finished work of art, he claimed it on the cross, ‘It is finished’. His master plan is being accomplished, he is just a lot more patient than we are, and He values the process within us as well as the end product.

In Carols garden she had a beautiful large fruit tree that had become home to birds, and other plants. A clematis had wound its way around the trunk and woven a mesh of tangled strands across its branches that flowered profusely during early spring, this had enabled some birds to build their nests amongst these tangled threads, providing a space full of song and new life. For the past few years the gardener had allowed this growth to cover the strong structure of the tree beneath, but now the trees own growth was being stunted. It had become smothered; its gift of hospitality had suffocated its own growth as it could no longer feel the warmth of the sunlight on its own branches and they had become shaded by over responsibility. It was time for pruning and cutting back, but not of the tree itself, but of its gift of hosting the lives of others. It had shared of itself until it had become weary and for its own good it was time for it to be stripped bare and exposed again to the vulnerability of emptiness. To let go of the roles and responsibilities it had held in supporting others, to grieve their loss and embrace its changing season in order that it too might be transformed once again.

This letting go is a hard thing to do, and can feel so harsh and unnecessary. We so easily become attached to the ministries we have, the people we share our lives with, the children that we raise and nurture, that when God prunes them back we feel empty, lost and vulnerable. But this is the hand of the heavenly gardener at work. For in these winter months of pruning and vulnerability we are growing deeper. Without the covering of fruit and blossom, our bare branches become exposed to reveal the essence of our true selves. In the cutting back the unnecessary excesses that have crowded my soul, both comforting and suffocating me at the same time by their gradual dominance have been removed. With the warmth of the tangled vine that wrapped me  so tightly now gone, I am left to be exposed to the harsh conditions of a dark and punishing winter. And yet God is with me, closer than ever as there are no longer any distractions. For I am now not only vulnerable and open to the cold frosts but also to the warmth and nourishment of the sun. Free to receive from God himself, to feel his touch personally and not just through the actions of others. No longer crowded in by the lives of others I am free to grow tall towards the sky, to blossom again until the cycle begins once more and I am again called to host others in a different season.

‘Love is forever surrendering itself, but only to be reborn more intensely’.

  1. D.O’Leary


Roger and Lesley are available to lead retreats and church weekends with an emphasis on unity, reimagining church, creative mission, transforming communities and contemplative spirituality.

speaking engagements:

May 2015

3rd - Doxa Deo Pretoria

10th - Pendlebury Evangelical Church

12th - GroundLevel Lincoln

24th - Life Church Manchester

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