In the bleak midwinter

Published 10:09 am Monday, February 3, 2014

Standing with a person who loves the outdoors, looking out the window at the snow drifts, whirling snow, and the branches of pine trees bending in the wind, a remark was made: “Isn’t there a song or poem about the bleak winter?” “Yes.” was my answer. It’s actually a hymn.” Turning to my Episcopal Church Hymnal for the name of this hymn, I found the title and read the lines.  The words were written by Christina Rossetti. From another era, yes, but for this blistery, and for some persons, god-awful weeks of Minnesota weather, these words may fortify you. When you enter your home and thaw out, you need the companionship of authentic words. Here they are:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

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Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

What is it in this frigid arena? What is it that may fill your days? And in these days, what will create a warmth in your heart? You desire a warmth that may spread to your body.

One: You may think of the warmth needed by others.  You will share with someone the anguish and sympathy on behalf of a young woman in Duluth, who by some crazy mix-up, was left outside the door of an otherwise safe lodging and nearly froze to death. The latest news is that fingers (toes?) were amputated. A lesson: Those within your social group need to care for each other.

Two: In this tempestuous order of nature, I reread a very considerate thank-you note from an attorney friend.  Many persons throughout southern Minnesota know Bryan Baudler. In that I spoke a few words of gratitude for what I termed the nobility of the legal profession at Mr. Baudler’s retirement gathering (not complete retirement, of course), I was thanked. With the many friends who recently gathered to share memories at the Hormel House, there was a lot of conversation around the tables and while standing. We spoke of Mr. Baudler’s “behind the scenes” professional service rendered to so many citizens.  A reminder: Great deeds, a spiritual outreach, community service, and friendships are extended with little fanfare, but it makes a city a satisfying place to reside.

Three: In retreating from the gusts of wind and the mix of frozen rain and blowing snow, one like myself, may be seen lunching with students at Riverland Community College.  Of course, someone had to ask another student:  “Did your car start?” “No, but a neighbor gave me a jump” was the reply.  One person at the table commented, “We all have stories.” So, snuggled in from the bitterness of nature’s wilds, stories were shared. Stories about what?  Part-time jobs. How many credits before graduation. The arrangement made for child care. The statement, “I like our new college president.” A question was posed to Bruce Heiny, the convener of this particular gathering. “What hours are you available as a counselor?”

I was asked, as a visitor to this group of students, “What about you?” I shared just a little from when I was a pastor to students in St. Cloud as what was termed Campus Ministry. I was the director of the Wesley Foundation. A door to answer, “what did you do?” was like a magic invitation to talk about what was identified as service projects and community involvement.  Groups of students responded to invitations to have “hands on” work for others. Events were life changing for some of the participants. For example, St. Cloud students going to Rust College, a black college in Holly Springs, Miss., up through the ‘70s. This was a cultural exchange.

In these weeks of turmoil and debate in New Jersey, the several summers students spent as volunteers in Camden, New Jersey, is a refreshing revisit. A point of reference for St. Cloud College students in the 1970s, was “The Projects” and the need for work boots. For me, the recruitment of college students and a few faculty staff members was both a challenge, and a marvelous accomplishment on behalf of others. And the “behalf of others” is a key to a sense of one’s self worth.

Hopefully, in a couple of months we will be enjoying a walk in the warmth and beauty of the Nature Center.  This bleak midwinter will turn into sipping iced tea on one’s deck.

Marvin Repinski is a retired United Methodist Pastor and an Austin resident.