Last week, on the first thirty-degree day after a long streak of sub-zero temps, Andrew and I went over to the state park.
The park is only a few miles from our new house. Andrew has been going there regularly to walk and to pray but has been unable, until last week, to coax me out of my blanket cocoon to join him. But finally the windchills let up a little and the air stopped feeling like barbed wire on your face, and I said, OK. Fine. Let’s go for a walk.
William O’Brien State Park is big, extending back into the woods and dipping under the road to hug the edge St. Croix River. The river is frozen solid right now, and the snow is packed down on top of it. In fact, the whole world seems to be buried deep underneath the weight of winter itself.
But then, at the fork in the path, Andrew told me to stop. Listen, he said.
And I would have missed it for the crunching of boots on snow. A spring or a creek or a brook – I’ve always been fuzzy on the difference. At any rate, it was so stunningly unexpected. How could this little creek be meandering haplessly down the rocks when right across the path, the giant river had frozen entirely still?
I asked Google, but Google only wanted to talk about physics. I closed the window knowing nothing about why mighty river stills while a tiny brook runs wild. Just that the earth itself seems to have no problem with paradox. It’s only us that can’t understand.
I’ve been trying, lately, to figure out what it means to be hopeful in this wintering world.
What does hope look like in a landscape that keeps erupting into wildfires and tsunamis, landslides and earthquakes? What does hope look like when your president dismisses entire countries as worthless? When there is a school shooting every other day? When your own heart feels deep-sunk in sadness or frustration or pain?
What does hope look like in a person? Is it a gold glow that makes you sparkle even in the sadness? Does hope fully realized look like happiness, like clapping, like the confident proclamation that whatever comes, God is in control?
But certainly not always.
Outside the window the trees are bare and beautiful, and the smoke from our wood furnace rises like incense into the cold, winter air.
I keep thinking about that stream in the snow and the stopped up river and all the water that is hidden underneath the surface of the world. Groundwater, we call it. Of the 1% of water that is available for human use, 99% of that is groundwater, thrumming hiddenly beneath us, filling the tiny spaces between soil particles and rock fragments. It moves so slowly, so invisibly, that we never understand that we are all the time walking on water. That it is holding us up, filling us up, bringing us back to life.
And here’s the most interesting part to me right now: the groundwater depends so much on the snow.
What falls and falls and falls in the winter – what that buries us and slicks the roads and dirties into piles of dingy slush at the edges of parking lots – this matters.
The snow is essential to the health of the groundwater. It sinks into the earth over those slow and tumultuous winter-spring months, and as it does, it replenishes the source – the groundwater from which so much is grown and fed and healed and refilled.
Which of course is just the Minnesota way of saying what the poets and playwrights have said from the beginning. Rain will make the flowers grow.
Here is what I most want you to know about me: I talk about my failures and my mess, my depression and anxiety not because I have no hope.
I talk about it because Hope is the groundwater of my life. And I have learned that these wintering moments are not antithetical to that hope but rather an essential part of it.
The snow comes and stays and burns cold against your fingers. You could try to scoop it up and cart it away, I suppose. You could ignore it and try to plow through your life as usual. People do it every day.
But if you sit with it, wait in it, let it run its course, the snow becomes part of an invisible river, filling all the cracks in your deepest heart.
For crying out loud, in times such as these, Hope cannot be some afterthought – some brave cliché we stick in our pain like a silver-plated bottle stopper. It won’t always sound happy-clappy or feel like the period at the end of the sentence.
It has to be more than that. Bigger. Deeper. Wider.
We get up out of our beds, and we have the courage to move and live and breathe and love in this world because we are fed by a hidden hope that flows beneath it all.
It is relentless, this groundwater. There is no crack inside of you so sharp that it cannot smooth.
Where around us hate and death and pain and fear seem so often to have the last word, the Hope of God’s Kingdom is thrumming beneath the surface.
This shouldn’t surprise us — the Kingdom of Heaven has always been described as small. Hidden. Yeast. A mustard seed. We want it to look like a mighty flowing river. We want to feel the power of it in our fingertips as it rushes by. But God is at work, instead, beneath the ground, slowly and hiddenly making all things new.
Dear one, are you tired? Are you grieving? Are you so angry that you could shoot fire out of your eyes? Do you feel like you couldn’t muster one bit of hope if your life depended on it?
There is Good News here: you don’t have to.
Even as the snow falls around us, even if you feel yourself stripped bare like a winter tree, the simple act of believing there is another, better Kingdom at work roots you into that groundwater of hope. It is already there, beneath you, and it provides every little thing you need to live this life. You just have to let yourself receive it.
Stop for second. Listen. Do you hear it? There is water beneath our feet, moving always, relentlessly pulling us toward life.