CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
We meet four strangers in the course of life. Whether we make friends or enemies of these strangers determines whether we live in the joy of wholeness or in the anguish of fragmentation.
In our early weeks and months of living, we don’t know the difference between ourselves and the world around us. That is especially true with our mothers. We grow to birth inside of them. We are not separate individuals. When we are first born, we still feel like we are a part of our mother’s body, especially as we nurse. We feel like we are a part of the rest of the world, too. We can’t tell the difference between where we end and our crib begins.
Gradually, though, we become aware that we and the world are not one. We are separate from everything else. Our skin is a dividing line, between us and all else.
That is especially true as we encounter other people. Brothers and sisters or playmates want the same attention and the same toys that we want. That is a rude awakening. We are not the whole world. We have to deal with the stranger called Otherness.
Then we encounter Mortality and Sexuality.
It is said that we learn when we are in grade school that others die, but in high school, we learn that we shall die. That is one of the reasons for teen suicide, meeting the stranger called Mortality. Even though a child has many years of life ahead, the thought of death is so depressing that, paradoxically, he or she kills him or herself to avoid dying. On the other hand, there is the conventional wisdom that teens think they will live forever, that nothing can kill them. That is why they drive and drink so recklessly, and take so many other chances. But they take those chances not because they believe that they are invulnerable, but to try to prove that they are.
Thankfully, most of us don’t kill ourselves as teens, but the stranger called Mortality keeps looking over our shoulder, making us uneasy the rest of our lives.
At about the same time, Sexuality comes along. We are having a good time, playing games, going to school, teasing girls about having cooties or claiming that “Girls rule, boys drool,” when suddenly hormones jump onto us and turn us into sex maniacs.
Then there is The Fourth Stranger, the one who can approach us at any time, but who chooses most often those times when our lives are being turned upside down by the appearance of the other strangers, Otherness and Sexuality and Mortality.
St. Augustine talked about “a God-shaped void within us.” John Wesley talked about “prevenient [preventing] grace.” Whatever image you use, we don’t know any better how to accept The Fourth Stranger than we do the other three. We sense that strange presence, though, in various ways. We can deal with The Fourth Stranger by denial or superficiality or hostility, methods we use with the first three strangers, or we can try to make friends.
For those of us who want to bloom before we are planted  for the last time, this is our moment. This is the time that Mortality has quit lurking in the background and has slipped up close. The very closeness of Mortality gives us a chance to make friends with the whole strange bunch. We have a final chance to get whole.
Making friends with The Fourth Stranger, at any time of life, makes it possible for us to be friends with the other three strangers as well.
Do we see strangers as enemies, or can we accept them as friends?
John Robert McFarland
1] I was once extolling our friend, Walt Wagener. “He is such a perfect example,” I said, “of blooming where he’s planted.” Helen replied, “I want to bloom before I’m planted.”
I am grateful to John Dunne, SJ, for his book—I can’t remember the title—that introduced me to the concept of “The 3 strangers.” I added the fourth.
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers [UPers] and life is defined by winter even in the summer!
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I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.