“If we remember that the German word for holy (selig) is the root of our word silly, we may be forced to make some pertinent connections.” — Mary Rose O’Reilly, Radical Presence: Teaching as Contemplative Practice
It’s been a long, cold winter.
I smile behind my wool scarf as I crunch over the snow and on down the road. It’s amusing to me that the Canadian would complain about the length and temperature of the season. Of course it’s long. Of course it’s cold. It’s Alberta. It’s Canada. What else would I expect?
But even for a seasoned winter-farer, I have to admit that this winter has had a more powerful bite and blast to it than recent winters. It’s too hard on the human body to stay alive outside (even in layers), and we’ve lost too many people to the cold already. Once down for whatever reason with no ability to rise, the end is certain even if it isn’t swift.
The snow squeaks beneath my mukluks. It’s obvious the wind’s been bad recently. It sounds odd to non-winter people that we winter folk are able to immediately discern what the weather’s been like simply by sight and sound of the snow. Today, it’s packed dryness makes the drifts hard but not sharp. The wind has been high and the temperature frigid. It won’t become sharp until there’s a bit of a thaw. That’s the kind of snow you don’t want to fall down in. Even the tiniest bit beneath one’s mitten makes for raw skin, even the drawing of blood.
Cold though the air might be, I need to be silly and emerge from safety of the indoors. Being cooped up inside for weeks on end with darkness settling into soul and community, I need to stamp into the light and inhale all of it.
My anger at the Colten Boushie trial and the subsequent flood of support for racist policy against indigenous people is severe. I’m not sure why I am so flabbergasted. After all, I live in an area where many people revere their arms and right to defence with a vehemence close to their worship of God.
And then: Parkland.
Small children are laying down their lives for people to enjoy their right to bear arms. Yes, my country is different that the States, but how quickly we forget that Gerard Stanley was just declared innocent of using a handgun to shoot Colten Boushie in the head.
The young are always the ones to pay the price for our need for violence. And still, adults are the ones to throw the tantrums about possessing power over relationship — guns before people. These days, it’s apparent that this possession is all-consuming.
The winter air is bracing against my cheeks and I fume that I forgot to put lip balm on before heading out. It sounds like a small thing, but when facing dry winter winds, it keeps one’s mouth from splitting open and bleeding. The clouds are clearing off and and the sunlight powers down through the atmosphere.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced northern winter sun, but if you have you will know precisely what I mean: winter sun is piercing. It’s not hot but the sky presents a depthless blue that summer can’t compete with.
And when our side of the earth finally begins to slowly tilt back towards the sun, we notice the difference. It’s so small at first that unless I’m silly enough to move outside in the bitter cold, I will miss it. The sunlight, it suddenly has more warmth. The air could be -35C, but at just the right time of day with no cloud cover, the light now has the capacity to warm my cheeks just a little bit. It wasn’t able to do that back in December.
That’s holy light.
But there would be no way for me to soak it all in if I wasn’t silly enough to head outside. It’s frigid, for crying out loud! The smart thing would be to remain indoors until the cold snap breaks.
That would be the smart and wise thing to do.
But the holy and the silly share a mysterious marriage, and acting on the holy means many unwise-in-the-moment actions. It means layering up with t-shirts, long underwear, leggings, jeans, hoodies, two pairs of socks, two pairs of mittens, snow pants, parkas, toques, hood-on-the-hoodie, hood-on-the-parka (remember that wind, right?), mukluks, and a wool scarf around the face.
A fashion plate, I am not.
But I trek out, the ever-present snow squeaking and crunching beneath my sort-of warm feet, and step into those rare pools of light that are only found in the coldest of temperatures. Hope, in my lived experience of winter, thrives when a bit of silliness draws me into this present moment.
Anger and grief are indoors. I am more irritable with people these days, I am more angry at the racism and nationalism expressed by fellow Canadians, I can’t openly accept anyone’s theology because there is no theology in the world that I will not be suspicious of, my body has been sent through a wood-chipper these past few months, and the world’s darkness mounts larger and larger by the warm, safe fire.
There are times and spaces for warm, safe fires.
But when the human needs the holy, the silly must guide my steps. The holiness is found in my footsteps, and that unbearable lightness of being begins to descend. It is unbearable for it almost feels like a desertion of the truth. But the world’s heaviness is only a portion of the truth.
Yet even though I ache for that warmth to spread further and stay longer, I also cling to what is safe: anger, fury, despair, frustration, angst. My perfectionism drives me to a horrible state of nit-picking, and I argue and belabour every issue to the ground.
I need to be silly. The silly is fine, warm holiness that infuses justice with divine mirth.
When I reject silliness, my path becomes rigid with lines that opponents can’t cross anymore. There’s no room for growth, even for myself. If I don’t choose to walk into the dangerous cold in pursuit of the little bit of light, I sit in my safe places and spiral into greater darkness.
Stepping into a silly space to discover the holy doesn’t demand I leave the realities of the world behind. Quite the opposite in fact. By choosing the silly and unwise, I am nourished; my perspectives are shaped rather than fixed; and there is a jagged break in the darkness; possessions are exorcised.
My breath creates those irritating sharp ice crystals on my scarf which, in turn, irritate my chin bright red. That’s ok. The light is warm in the cold. Rising against injustice, inaction, and pain is tempered with faith, hope, and love.
For myself, I breathe a frosty breath for the greatest of these.