Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, April 2, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter…

I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.

I wrote this when we lived in the Upper Peninsula of MI, where winter is 13 months long each year, and so life is defined by winter, even in the summer.


Helen and I took off our long underwear April 2. No, I should say that differently: we stopped wearing long underwear April 2. Saying we took it off then indicates that we had not taken it off at all since we put it on last Dec. Helen would be mortified to have people think we did not change underwear all winter, because she did.

Long underwear is supposed to be donned on Dec. 1 and doffed on April 1. We did not change on April 1 because we had a big snowfall that day. We put it on last Dec. 2 because we did not have a big snowfall Dec. 1.

Helen’s father, Tank Karr, always said that spring starts March 1. In the UP there is no such thing as spring; we simply think in terms of short underwear season.

Sometimes the weather fools the underwear. We had to put our long underwear back on. In addition to our big April Fool’s snow, we had another 7 inches April 9 and another two on April 11. UP here, April may yet turn out to be not only the cruelest month but the snowiest. Helen is at Trinity UMC, sewing comforters for the poor and homeless. Yes, it is still that season. And I am wearing not only my long underwear but my heaviest Land’s End wool pullover and my lumberjack plaid Filson vest and my 35-below sox from L.L. Bean.

We learned about long underwear season from Arch Davidson of the Stanwood, IA Presbyterian Church. [1] It was the first Sunday in December, which meant communion. It also, that year, meant a record high temperature of around eighty degrees. Arch was dressed in his gray three-piece church suit. As we sang the final hymn, he wavered and began to pass out. He was too hot. Under his church suit was his union suit. Arch was a man of conviction and predestination. It was Dec. 1, and by hokies, that meant long underwear.

Cold is a particular concern of old people. As a pastor, I have visited in the homes of many old people in the winter. I did not wear long underwear then, but I had winter-weight stuff on. I often had to cut the visit short and get out because the thermostat was cranked up to eighty degrees. I never felt the need to go to Florida in the winter; I could just go to Maple Adams’ house.

Many old people go in the wintertime to where the air is hot. I think long underwear is a better solution, for when you are old, you have less tolerance for hot air as well as less tolerance for cold.

The cold does not seem to affect young people as much. I cannot remember being young myself, but I observe young people. Our granddaughter, Brigid, goes around in short sleeves and bare feet during long underwear season.

There is also an emotional coldness that comes with age. Neither cranking up the thermostat or fleeing to Florida helps that much. I recall talking with a man whose wife had died suddenly. “I just feel cold,” he said. His emotional long underwear had been removed.

That happens each time someone we love is taken from us. That person who kept us warm with love and laughter, who held us close when we shivered at the ways of the world, is gone. We are without the long underwear on which we counted.

I am told that the last test for soldiers in training for arctic duty is to be dropped alone into the arctic wilderness, in regular fatigues, clutching their arctic pack. They will not survive unless they strip completely naked, in brutal temperatures, and don the survival pack.

We do not survive in this cold world without the right long underwear. I am tempted from time to time to try to get along without it. Then some layer of my long underwear is taken away, and I realize how cold I am without it. I give thanks for Filson and L.L. Bean. I save my greatest thanks, however, for those who wrap me in the warmth of love, even though now that warmth comes, from many of them, not in presence, but in memory and in hope.


1] I pastored there while doing doctoral work at the U of IA.

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

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