Strategies for Surviving the Winter – Stock Up or Pare Down?
There are two main strategies in nature employed by the animal kingdom to get ready for the cold, short days of the winter season. One is to stock up on food and calories, the other is to do the polar opposite and strip down to the bare minimum.
In her beautiful Advent book, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss tells how animals employ these strategies. Animals from bears to birds follow the first strategy. Bears spend the month of September ravenously snacking on nuts, berries, and bugs to build up the fat reserves that will preserve them through the long darkness of hibernation. A bear can sleep her way through winter, her metabolism humming beneath a thick pad of fur to keep her mammalian blood warm and flowing. By the time the spring thaw arrives, mama bear may be amazed at how much weight has fallen away as she awakens – as well as being surprised by the two baby bears that were born during hibernation!
Reptiles survive by a totally different strategy. By the time a garter snake slithers underground into his warm hidey-hole, his belly is lithe and clean of every trace of food. Snakes head into winter streamlined and tidy, inside and out. With no food in his stomach, there’s no digestion. With no digestion, there’s little to no energy. In this utterly lackadaisical state, Mr. Garter Snake will remain conscious, poised in the twilight between life and almost-death until the coming of Spring.
I wonder if we humans are more like the bear or the snake in our approach to winter? Perhaps some of each. On the one hand, the holidays can lead us to a bear-like stocking up on delicious foods – fridges and pantries bursting with abundance. On the other hand, like the snake, seasonal hospitality can inspire us to tidy up and pare down the clutter – especially if the in-laws are coming over!
But we clever humans are strangely most out of touch with nature’s rhythms. Of all the animals, we alone schedule exams, put on pageants and programs, and put on a dizzying array of parties and extra festivals during the darkest, shortest days of the year. We are uniquely equipped to fight against our natural environment rather than cooperate with it.
The invitations of Advent, however, are in keeping with those of Nature. Advent asks us to slow down — not only our metabolisms but also our thoughts. Like a bear, we’re invited to live off what we’ve previously consumed — in spiritual terms, to live off of what we’ve imbibed of the Word of God. And like the snake, we’re also invited into a season of stripping down to what’s bare and essential so that when God finds us through Jesus, we are as naked and helpless as newborns — utterly open to any gifts, warmth, and provision that might come our way.
This Sunday’s worship service will feature four Scripture texts that lead us in the direction of both the bear and the snake: God is keen to have us make the necessary preparations so that we might both eat at his table and rest quietly in his grace.
Peace to you as we do our best to say “Yes” to these invitations from our God.
~ Pastor Gregg