Change always seems to feel most palpable in January, right at the same time as weather draws me in and keeps me contained at home. It’s all part of a wider pattern. I see it as I look back, like the waves behind a boat reveal the way only after traveled. The first month of the year comes and it brings with it a time of rest amidst a season of restlessness.
Change feels most threatening in January.
But its mercy is powerful in equal measure.
Mercy is the compassionate action from the powerful one. Mercy is the unexpected gift from the one who doesn’t have to give it. It is the hand reached out from the strong that passes sustenance to the empty hands of the week.
January’s mercy is bestowed through the fire continuously burning in the fireplace, kindled and cared for by my beloved. Our boys love the fire for its heat and mostly because it is loved by their father. Football will play on Sunday and they will all three wear their jerseys, while he continuously pokes and prods the logs. The fire keeps us together, circled around its radiating heat and drawn to its eternal nature and yet its inevitable impermanence.
January’s mercy is bestowed through the chopping of ingredients and integrating of each one carefully into the red dutch oven over the stove. The youngest demands to sit on the counter and taste each ingredient. The smells waft through the house, filing it to the brim and drawing all to the table. The table nurtures our bodies, the frames that must be healthy to weather the season.
January’s mercy is bestowed through the quiet mornings with lectionary texts, Ted Loder, and Mary Oliver. It is filled in the afternoon and evening with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nadia Bolz-Weber. There is coffee in the morning, lattes in the afternoon, and apple cider in the evening. The books draw me inward and prepare me to return to the wider world once the weather permits or the schedule demands. The hot drinks melt the soul’s defenses so as to receive it all.
January’s changes are brutal, but its mercy fills weak hands abundantly. Thanks be to God for mercy and its transmission of Life that sustains the soul for the cold nights.
May the mercy received be mercy shared with a January world.
I could have
built a little house
to live in
with the single cord –
half seasoned, half not –
trucked into the
tumbled down. But, instead,
and together we stacked it
for the long, cold days
that are –
maybe the only sure thing in the world –
How to keep warm
is always a problem,
Of course, there’s love.
And there’s prayer.
I don’t belittle them,
and they have warmed me,
from the heart outwards.
what swirls of frost will cling
to the windows, what white lawns
I will look out on
as I rise from morning prayers,
as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves,
as I go out into the yard
and bring the wood in
with struggling steps,
with struggling thoughts,
bundle by bundle,
to be burned.”
– Mary Oliver, The Winter Wood Arrives