The Work of Winter
January 24, 2018

“Each kind of work has its own season.”
Hesiod, Works and Days

I am convinced that our bodies, and souls, want to move with the rhythm of the seasons. But most of us have professions or callings in which our work does not really vary according to the season. And modern life goes by a schedule that has been largely unhinged from the cycles of the natural world. Perhaps our recreational activities vary with the seasons, but often not our work, the very stuff of our daily lives.

Thus we usually miss out on a basic connection to a deep intentionality in nature.

Yet surely we can tune into the seasons nonetheless; we can receive the gift of a particular season by consciously trying to enter into it.

So how do we enter into winter? What is the point of winter anyway?

I can’t but think of my garden. Under a blanket of mulch right now something special is happening in the soil. In a pause from the more obvious and strenuous work of growing plants, the soil is gathering its strength to start again in earnest. This period is necessary, even if we know not exactly why. A hidden rejuvenation is in process.

We are tempted to want to skip this part. We say, “Oh for spring!” But then, what is spring without winter? Really.

I seek the wisdom to recognize winter for what it is, and so to live in it. This much I know: simply to hold my nose for this part, to bundle up and wish it past, is to miss something that has a reason. There is always a reason.

Perhaps if I am more patient, and look with confidence, I will come to a better understanding of what it is.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead.

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  1. JMJ

    Dear Dr. Cuddeback,

    Thank you for your thoughts. What you’re saying gives me much to think about today. Do you believe that souls can go through this “winter season”, in a spiritual sense, also? I read about dryness, but I feel as though the word winter, and your description of it, fits the state of my soul much better right now.

    God Bless!

    1. Elizabeth, I am no spiritual master. It certainly seems to me that in God’s providence the seasons of the year can be very apt analogies for seasons of the soul too. It has been some time since I’ve read St. John of the Cross; I can’t recall if he explicitly uses the winter theme. Though in a quick search I just found this piece in which the author does use the theme of winter to illustrate the dark night…
      With best wishes to you.

      1. JMJ

        Thank you and best wishes for a peaceful, joyous new year!

  2. – Thanks for the deep post. I have two thoughts.

    My first thought is, Hesiod’s quote seems to prefigure the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Was Ecclesiastes influenced by Greek thought, perhaps Hellenistic influence? If so, the fact would seem to constitute an implicit sanction from God, that wisdom is wisdom irrespective of its cultural genesis; St. Augustine also supported this idea indirectly via his endorsement of any truth contained in Greek philosophy.

    The second thought I have is this. Let’s take the premise, “There is always a reason for everything.” Now, let’s move to a second premise, “Various evils exist in the world.” These two premises seems to support an idealist metaphysics, where every phenomenon harmonizes within a larger totality. My question is, is this type of idealistic metaphysics compatible with Roman Catholicism? (I honestly do not know. The question is by no means rhetorical.)

    1. Brian, Thank you for these thoughtful questions. I do not know about the question of possible Hellenic influence on the book of Ecclesiastes. I’d like to look into that. But the more basic point to which you advert is very important: Christian thinkers from the earliest times have endorsed finding truth in pagan philosophy. St. Justin Martyr was particularly insistent on this point.
      As regards your second question: we first of all need a terminological note. “Idealist metaphysics” is actually usually used in a different way from how you are using it here. But let’s take it as you use it here: a view where “every phenomenon harmonizes within a larger totality.” Stated in this way, this view is not only compatible with Roman Catholicism, it is central to it. In other words, Divine Providence orders all things sweetly, as Scripture says. This of course does raise the problem of evil: how does evil fit into Divine Providence? This is a complex matter, but at root we must see that God’s Providence is capable of ordering all things well so that even moral evil, which in itself God does not will, comes under an all encompassing Providence, which can even bring good from evil. I hope that’s at least a reasonable start of an answer to your good questions.

      1. Thanks for your enlightening response, Dr. Cuddeback. It is singularly gratifying to confirm that every thing, in the end, harmonizes within the created order of God. This requires a degree of faith, certainly, when one ponders the present existence and history of evil in the world, and in one’s personal life. But the notion of universal harmony engenders hope in one, and this is why I find the confirmation of its truth gratifying.

        If I understand correctly, Gottfried Leibniz maintained that this world is “the best of all possible worlds” that God could have created. Does the Catholic philosopher concur with this proposition? It seems to be necessarily true, given the nature of God. Personally, I would like to accept this proposition, as it would strengthen my faith exponentially, but I worry that the proposition may be flawed in some way.

        1. Brian,
          A quick thought: Yes, Leibniz is known for holding this is the best of all possible worlds. Thomas Aquinas does not concur with this. I think the main point here is this: to say this is the best of all possible worlds implies a limit on God’s freedom and power. There is nothing wrong with saying that God ‘could have’ made a more perfect world. The truth on which to focus, however, is that the world in which we live is the world He in fact chose to create, out of pure love and generosity. What would be the point of saying to God: “But couldn’t You have made things just a little better”? The reality is that this world is God’s masterpiece of order, in which He shares His goodness with us by creating an ordered whole that reflects who He is.
          Finally, we should remember that His Providence oversees THIS world–just as it is, ordering all things sweetly, for our good. Given the world He has created, His providence is an absolutely perfect arrangement of things. So we can live in the confidence: His providence is always at work. Boethius thinks that what especially sets Christianity apart is its deep and abiding faith in God’s loving Providence.

          1. I don’t mean to cut in, but another factor in this world’s imperfection (Or perhaps non-optimal-ness? Hard to express) is human freedom – it would seem God could have created a more glorious world, but it would have to be a world of automatons rather than persons. Our God, amazingly, is not a control freak. He desires His creation to love Him but in no way forces it. To love, one must have a choice to reject.

            Another beautiful thing is that when God recreates heaven and earth at the end of all things, it will be entirely populated with the righteous angels and the gloried and resurrected human persons who did chose to love God and obey his commandments. May we persevere to see that glorious and holy New Jerusalem! I’m not sure how to quantify what is “the best world God could possibly make” but the whole idea of the New Heaven and Earth filled with God’s true friends is a pretty wonderful thought. In fact:

            “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
            nor the heart of man conceived,
            what God has prepared for those who love him.”

  3. I love winter for the rest of body and soul. So rejuvenating!

    1. Amen to that.

  4. Thank you for raising this. My profession, working on computer software, is particularly unseasoned. The computer doesn’t care one lick about God or His creation, it just awaits my commands. This can easily give me an unrealistic sense of power.

    Blessedly, I work near a window facing the woods. Just last week, I saw pileated woodpecker, a most majestic bird, pecking about a dying tree. It was a welcome reminder of the order of nature and my context as a grain of sand in God’s universe. Another useful counter for the potential soullessness of my work is to make sure that I’m getting in the winter. Even if it’s just walking around the neighborhood once a week or standing on the porch for a few minutes, it’s beautifully grounding.

    John, what other advice would you have for staying grounded in God’s creation with a job such as mine?

    1. Josemaria,
      Thanks for sharing this. I really see what you are saying. I think that I too would try to utilize that window in your office! Now I don’t want to give up too quickly on bringing more ‘seasonality’ into your work itself–something about which we should think more–but I tend to go in my mind to what things can you do in the rest of our day in order to make up for what is lacking in your work. Areas worth considering: how might some work in my household be more seasonal–e.g., growing and preparing and preserving food; possibly heating the home sometimes by wood, etc.; another area: learning about the natural world as regards its seasonal changes: birds and their eating and migration habits; mammals and their seasonal activities; and tree identification in their seasonal phases (one neat thing here is using an identification book called Winter Tree Finder). Thanks again.

      1. Good tip! That book’s only $6 on Amazon.

        My work itself is really at the whims of whatever projects my company and the market dictate, so I have little flexibility to seasonalize, so to speak, my job. But your point is well taken about the work of the household. Something worth continuing to think about.