Imbolc Sunday: Wintering Seeds – Rev. Caitlin Cotter Coillberg

So, I’ve been thinking a lot this week, like I do, about the opening line from Shakespeare’s Richard III-

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this Son of York. 

I’ve always loved how Shakespeare captures the sense that there are seasons and chapters to our lives, both as individuals and as groups, and I love that he gives this line to his deliciously villainous version of Richard III. We’d all like to be the son of york who turns our winter of discontent to glorious summer, right?

Because winter can be a drag, and not necessarily in the fun Rupaul sense of that word. Winter is tough. Often desolate or at least uncomfortable.  Lonely making.  But it can also be a gift.   

I am grateful that we got some snow two weeks ago, a brief glorious reminder to slow down, lest you skid, to hold your kids close and drink hot chocolate and maybe pause with your tongue out and your face to the sky.

I’m mad so many of you just had to keep working remotely and didn’t get your snow days. Because we need snow days. We need to embrace winter, both in its literal and metaphorical terms.   

To quote that piece from Katherine May again “We like to imagine that it’s possible for life to be one eternal summer, and that we have uniquely failed to achieve that for ourselves. We dream of an equatorial habitat, forever close to the sun; an endless, unvarying high season. But life’s not like that.”

And trying to force ourselves, each other, our society, our world into endless summer is how we pushed ourselves into climate crisis, right?  When all you prioritize is productivity, is getting the most labor possible out of people, and growing growing growing exponentially forever, when you turn the very idea of a fallow season into something that is shamed, then you are going to become destructive, you’re going to harm yourself and those around you.   

This is why I talk about late stage consumer capitalism being inherently violent, right? Letting ourselves have winters, have times when we are going inward, resting, thinking deep winter thoughts, dreaming and resting and planning and resting.  And also taking naps.

To quote Cole Arthur Riley, author of Black Liturgies: “Let rest deliver you back to yourself.  Exhaustion won’t save you in a world more interested in using your body than protecting it. Lie down.  Breathe slow.  We rest that we might dream.” This is vital, holy work. For all of us, as gardeners and the garden.  

We started out this year, way back in August, talking about our congregation as a garden- about how our garden was recovering from a metaphorical flood, and this year was its fallow year.

If we think about our congregation as a garden, we also have a winter every year, right?  The literal winter season when I always try to do the Religious Education bits that most invite deep wintery thinking. I love that we have a literal garden here at the church- who is gardening at home as well?  How many of you have benefitted from our fabulous green sanctuary team’s work on native plants? I know I have, I’ve got several planted in my wee little native garden in front of my condo townhouse. 

And for those of you who garden at home, you know that gardening has four seasons, not three, right? There’s the planting season, the weeding and watering season, the harvest season, and then the looking at seed catalogues and planning and dreaming season.  Which is just as important as the other, right? 

A good garden starts as a winter dream, coming into being as you curl up in your favorite chair, warm drink in a mug next to you, blanket on your lap, perhaps with a seed catalogue, or the web-page for a heritage seed nonprofit that has grown from the urban farm initiative of Philadelphia open in your hand, for example. 

We who are not great at keeping our house plants alive, who long for the frogs of Brookside garden to return, may indeed experience this season as a winter of discontent. And you know, that’s okay too. It is okay to be grumpy, y’all. It’s okay if your seasonally affected disorder, you aching joints, your head cold keeps you from actively enjoying this cozy season. Some of us feel the bite of this literal winter season in a real way, are forced to slow down not just because that’s what our spirits need but because we literally move more slowly. 

This week, with Imbolc and Brigid’s day, the season is turning.  Winter is half over, spring is beginning, we are with Brigid on the threshold and the days are lengthening. We can light candles, cup seeds in our hand, let rocks – or some of the balls we are juggling- fall from our hands with this knowledge- winter is shifting us again towards spring. We don’t need to rush, to push through. We can rest here, in winter, in the healing that Brigid offers- if honoring Brigid’s day is meaningful to you. She invites us to sit deep in winter’s wisdom.

Part of that winter wisdom is trust- trust that letting go of what was can lead to new things. Trust that moving at the speed of covenant, of care, of love, is better than moving at the speed of anxious urgency. 

Trust that the seeds we cultivate, that we gently put to rest in dark soil, that we water and watch, will find their way to the surface. Seeds need to rest, and so do we. As Pagan leader Hope Horton puts it…

“Imbolc tries our patience and our faith, that this too shall pass, that the Wheel is turning, and that our spirit will be green again. And to those of us who would rather continue dozing in the belly of the frozen ground, Imbolc brings a challenge to wake up and be ready for change which will come as surely as the earth moves around the sun.”

Moving forward from winter, and awakening to new life, means moving forward with our winter dreams, even without assurance of outcomes. We hope that 2024 will bring us flowers, because we are planting flowers.

But here we are, in this Imbolc season, feeling that quiver within the seed where the momentum starts to build, beginning to let down roots so we can weather spring storms. Thinking about what we are willing to put our faith in, and by that I mean our effort- our treasure- what we will show up to do and be. Winter wisdom calls us to deep honesty- deep truths, deep commitments. This is a time for humility, curiosity and reverence. Like seeds, we need to rest, to be in the darkness, to hydrate. Like seeds, we have potential within ourselves, each of us a spark of the sacred at our core.

This season can be an invitation to quiet down and listen to that spark, that still small voice, to remember that we are enough, and we can be more. More courageous, more curious, more awake to the world and each other. There will be no son of York turning our winter of discontent into glorious summer. But I trust that spring and then summer will come, and that I can find it in myself to wait for them. 

 In the words of Molly Remer

“Here we are in seed time, dream time, looking for the cracks of light that tell us to stretch out and grow. We are invited to consider this possibility: What if there is nothing wrong? What if there is no ‘too slow’? What if we live a miracle every single day, and we don’t have to earn it?

As the first shoots of tentative growth begin to lift, and we sense the beginning sparks of possibility, of new ways of being, we may feel the itch to create a lengthy to-do list for the new year.

Resist and sit, curled and waiting. Uncover what is enough.

Not in the sense of playing too small, but the kind of enough that allows our hearts to expand and our shoulders to loosen, that allows creativity to blaze and joy to bloom, the kind of enough that opens space in our lives to hold ourselves and our seed dreams. Darkness and silence can hold both the sparks of our dreams and the embers of our hopes. We are our own seeds of promise.”