The Winter is Cold
A Reflection on Joy
Preston Clegg

The winter is cold, is cold.
All’s spent in keeping warm.
Has joy been frozen, too?
I blow upon my hands
Stiff from the biting wind.
My heart beats slow, beats slow.
What has become of joy?

If joy’s gone from my heart
Then it is closed to You
Who made it, gave it life.
If I protect myself
I’m hiding, Lord, from you.
How we defend ourselves
In ancient suits of mail!

Protected from the sword,
Shrinking from the wound,
We look for happiness,
Small, safety-seeking, dulled,
Selfish, exclusive, in-turned.
Elusive, evasive, peace comes
Only when it’s not sought. 

Help me forget the cold
That grips the grasping world.
Let me stretch out my hands
To purifying fire,
Clutching fingers uncurled.
Look!  Here is the melting joy.
My heart beats once again.

—Madeline L’Engle

I think of this poem every year, usually during the first cold snap of winter.  The cold makes me want to crawl into a ball, in front of a fire and under a blanket.  This “tightening” is actually a physiological reality.  Did you know that, when our bodies grow cold, our veins and vessels constrict in an effort to stay warm?  The body literally tightens in an effort to insulate itself from the cold.  The cold seems to harden everything.  Ice isn’t known for its hospitality.

I wonder if our souls don’t mirror our bodies in this regard.  When the world grows cold and hope gives way.  When we begin striving for tolerance rather than love.  When we speak of hope in the past tense and peace seems to elude us in every tense.  This poem speaks of “the cold that grips the grasping world”, and we can see clinched and grasping fists most everywhere we look.  The world can feel so cold, and I find myself constricting my soul, hardening my heart, and insulating my mind in an effort to keep my blood running warm.  More energy is spent trying to stay alive than in actually living. 

This poem begins with the author’s joy in a frozen state.  It’s been too long since she danced, sang, or laughed.  Her life has become something to endure, not something to live.  But in closing off to joy, the author has also closed herself off to God.  “If I protect myself, I’m hiding, Lord, from you…”

But in the last refrain, joy enters through the opening of the self.  The clinched fist gives way to the open hand.  The opening allows the light and heat in.  Melting ensues.  The heart is resurrected.  Wonder is renewed.  Life is restored.   

Today, I pose to you the same question the poem does:  what has become of joy?  What has become of your joy?  Has it been buried with someone you love?  Was it dismissed as you were from your job?  Has it been quarantined somewhere else?  Has it been bruised by rampant injustice?  Is it exhausted from the weight of it all?  Has it been dulled by the monotony of life?  Has it been eroded by the sort of trauma that arrives bit by bit in unrelenting slow-motion or the sort that arrives in jarring suddenness?  

Might I encourage you to open yourself- and all that is yourself, your mind, heart, soul, and body- to some good news today.  Will you open your hands to receive it?  

Behold, I bring you Good News of great JOY, which shall be for all the people (Luke 2.10)

Can you feel it?  It feels like a great cosmic melting.  My heart beats once again.  Maybe yours does too.

**photo: a snow covered Pinnacle Mountain by Rhonda Burton.

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