Hope in Winter's Cold

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of singing the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in church, and to my Church of Christ heart’s delight, a capella. When this song began to be sung, a smile swept across my lips, the familiarity of the old hymn like a hug from a grandparent. But second verse, unexpectedly, brought tears to my eyes.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

How can the cold of Winter bear witness to the great faithfulness of the Lord? This year my word for 2019, as I am a cheesy individual who sets resolutions and prays for a yearly word, is “faithfulness.” Both expectant of God’s faithfulness, and pressing into the goodness of the Lord, so that the Spirit may produce this in my life. But I would not have expected that fruit of faithfulness to look like Winter.

It should come to no surprise to know that my favorite season is Spring. The color that blooms, the warm breeze fighting the chilly air, the very smell of new life courageously becoming more than little buds— I love everything about Spring. (Except allergies; but grandiose allegory > gross allergies, ya feel me?)

The hope of Spring is something I have to hold fast to on cold January days. This time of year, my spirit always feels like January too. Slow, cold, and dark, I find my thoughts becoming. The other morning, I was journaling alongside my cup of coffee, and I found myself writing something like, “I feel this way, which makes me behave this way, and then I feel hopeless that I’ll never be or do anything more, and the shame from that feeling feeds into the behavior, and underlines the hopelessness…” I felt my heart tighten in response to this evil cycle, when suddenly, put my pen down and began to laugh.

“You’ve got to be kidding, Bragg,” I said aloud to myself, “This lie is the exact opposite of what the Lord says…” I swiftly turned the pages of my Bible to Romans 5.

"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I wrote verses 3-5 down under my uncannily close fallacy, then reemphasized: “HOPE DOES NOT PUT YOU TO SHAME BC GOD’S LOVE HAS BEEN POURED INTO YOUR HEART THRU THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO LIVES IN YOU, SARAH MAE!!” just like that underneath. (I’m a firm believer in tough love, so without invoking shame, I write to myself in all caps often.)

I smiled, feeling the warmth of God’s love in my heart, and looked down at my favorite tattoo. An olive branch and lavender sprig sit together as a symbol for this very concept: the hope of Spring.

Design by Dyani Thompson , photo by Meredith Thompson…no relation

Design by Dyani Thompson, photo by Meredith Thompson…no relation

The idea was inspired by a beautiful moment of intimacy with God at the Garden Tomb. This is where most Protestants believe Joseph of Arimathea’s spare tomb where Jesus was laid for those three days. Seated on a bench perched between an olive tree and a magnificent plot of lavender, I was crying—surprise, another story where I’m crying. Ya girl is sensitive ok— overwhelmed by the goodness of the Lord, when these words from C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe came to mind,

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

Contextually, this is a fantastic-messianic prophecy about the Jesus-lion character, Aslan, coming to overtake winter, winter without Christmas, mind you. This grand allegory illustrates the hope we have in Christ; through the faithfulness of Jesus, you and I shall have spring again.

My mind has this idea closely tied with the painting Allegory of Spring, by Sandro Botticelli. It is a celebration of humanism and neoplatonism, an idea that has been intertwined with the Church since Augustine. When I look at it, and I do often, I see the hope. Just to the left of the central woman, Venus, the three graces dance spring into play with their representation of fertility and purity. The far left stands the god Mercury, mediator between humans and the pantheon, communicating that this is a scene for man to know. The part of the painting that speaks to my spirit the most is the figure to the right of Venus, Flora, a goddess who was once the nymph being assaulted to the far right by the god Zephyrus, but because of repentance and reconciliation was made the glorious flower-covered goddess she is.

Venus, with her graceful conduction, reminds us to find truth and beauty all around us. The graces remind us that the ground is fertile, and life will bloom again. Mercury reminds us of whom he counterfeits: Jesus the Lord, our mediator and intercessor to God the Father. Flora reminds us that no matter what evil we experience, God is faithful to divinely justify and glorify us in Christ.

Romans 8:30 promises this very thing, saying,

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The Lord had a plan to reconcile us, resurrecting us from bones of death into Spirit of Life. We have hope that, even when all we feel is winter, the fruit of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love will bloom into spring. When Jesus moves in our life, whether to defeat the lies of shame for the day, or to redeem how the zephyr of winter has hurt or broken us, we will have hope. Because we have been reconciled to Christ, we see His faithfulness in winter’s cold; the redeemed shall have Spring again.