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Retreat at Home Week 1 - Winter

We walk by faith, and not by sight (St Paul from his letter to Corinthians)

Winter, from The Seasons’ Benedictions.
Taken from After Prayer, Malcolm Guite
When winter comes and winds are cold and keen,
When nights are darkest, though the stars shine bright,
When life shrinks to its roots, or sleeps unseen,
Then may he bless and bring you to his light.
For he has come at last, and can be seen,
God’s love made vulnerable, tightly curled:
The Winter Child, The Saviour Of The World.

A Reading - Romans 8:26-27

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

St Paul knows how hard it can be to pray at times. He encourages the young church at Rome by reminding them and us, of the work of the Spirit deep within our hearts. Is there a particular type of prayer that brings you closest to God? The Spirit communicates to God on our behalf, bringing to God our deepest hurts and longings – the things we struggle to say. What current issues make you groan or sigh? What issues do you struggle to pray about? Lift them to God now.

God searches the heart – Why not read this again and then open your heart to God. Allow The Holy Spirit to pour his love and healing into anything which you are keeping hidden, trying to run away from, or which is causing you pain.

A Story

The story for this week comes from Mark Buchanan’s book and it concerns an accumulation of bereavements. Mark had an unbearable feeling that he was “losing my mind and my faith”. The last straw was losing his friend and colleague Carol who he charmingly said could ‘pray heaven close’; what a lovely thing to say about someone.

“We prayed, desperate, confident, declarative, beseeching. We were gallant as knights, then frightened as children…
She died. I held myself together, and a few others besides…
And then I woke one morning barren of fruit, bereft of joy, short of daylight.
I could not shake it off. I could not make a thing grow. I saw a counsellor. I had people pray for me. I read books. I begged God. I faked it. Nothing ended it.
And then God gave me an insight: this was Winter. It would end, in time, but not by my own doing. My responsibility was simply to know the season and match my actions and inactions to it. It was to learn the slow hard discipline of waiting.
It was my season to believe in spite of – to believe in the absence of evidence or emotions, when there’s nothing: no bud, no colour, no light, no birdsong, to validate belief. It was my time to walk without sight.”

Mark then describes a situation where a man who had experienced a dreadful accident which left him as a blind paraplegic was spoken to by a friend from his Church community. She said, “Do not forget in the night what God has shown you in the day.”

A Reflection

          For those of us who know a little about gardening, or have a farming background, Winter tends to be the time when things stay below the earth. Bulbs and seeds do not appear at all. Some delicate plants require protection with gardening fleeces. The vineyards in this country light burners to keep the plants in a more temperate environment. We break our hearts for the homeless and buy them warm drinks, and give them hats and gloves, or the money to go into the shelter for the night. Winter is hard, and for most of us the way we tackle it is to stay indoors, by the fire. Animals hibernate. People living in places like Alaska go indoors and stockpile essentials, then prepare to wait it out.

Yet we are always surprised when we try to live as normal in a bereavement, or some other trauma. It is baffling why we do not use the wisdom we have gained from the season of winter to help us with the spiritual season of Winter. Perhaps, we think, I don’t believe enough? Is my faith just too weak to endure this? We encourage our friends to get out saying ‘it will cheer you up’. And in doing all this we ignore the signs of this season. We do not respect its wisdom, instead forcing ourselves or others to move into Spring.

And yet, the real truth of it, the harsh truth is that Winter can hide God from the best of us. There, I’ve said it. That feels a harsh statement, but when your loved ones die, or are diagnosed with something terrible, you lose your job, you suffer from an accident, money is impossibly hard, our spirits go underground just like those beautiful bulbs of May when the December snow comes. Two of my favourite quotes for this spiritual season are from

  • Isaiah 45 verse 3 “I will give you the treasures of darkness
    and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who call you by your name.”  and from
  • Hosea 2:14 “Therefore, I will now persuade her,
       and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.”

In these quotations God speaks to his beloved children tenderly, gently, and chock full of understanding and compassion. Yet God is also realistic – this is hard, it is dark, it is a wilderness. And we can hear in a way which we are unable to when we are surrounded by the busyness of the Spring or Summer of the heart. So, although a spiritual Winter is intense, usually painful, full of brokenness and silence, it is also a time when God will show us treasures which he keeps hidden for these times; like a mother keeping some extra special treats for when her children have had their immunisations or have been especially good in difficult circumstances – these are the Treasures of Darkness.

Spiritual Winter is the time to hunker down, sit in silence, gaze out of the window, say words by rote, and allow God to speak tenderly to you, and show you the treasures of darkness which he has reserved especially for this time. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time and a season for everything; this is the time to allow God to minister to you.

A Spiritual Exercise

          When words feel too much, and prayer is too much of an effort, a Litany can be a useful Spiritual Exercise. A Litany is a type of intercessional prayer using set phrases. A Litany will ‘pray for you’ (as in St Paul’s phrase “The Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words” Romans 8:26-27). You might like to pray this Litany daily and leave a silence at the end of each phrase - just as long as your mind will stay still before it leaps on to the next thought. That silence might be as short as 20 seconds, or as long as 15 minutes – as soon as your mind jumps to a new thought, move on to the next phrase. Finally, conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.


With all our heart and with all our mind, let us pray to the Lord, saying, Lord, have mercy.

For the peace from above, for the loving kindness of God,

and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.


For the peace of the world, for the welfare of the holy Church of God,

and for the unity of all peoples, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For our Bishops and for all the clergy and all leadership of this parish,

and for its people, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For our Government, for the leaders of the nations, and for all in authority,

let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For this community of Merrow, for every city and community which I care for,

and for those who live in them, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For our schools, colleges, places of learning, for clubs and societies,

and for our young people, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For seasonable weather, and for an abundance of the fruits of the earth,

let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the good earth which God has given us,

and for the wisdom and will to conserve it, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those who travel on land, on water, or in the air (or through outer space),

let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.


For the aged and infirm, for the widowed and orphans,

and for the sick and the suffering, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.  


For the poor and the oppressed, for the unemployed and the destitute, for prisoners

and captives, and for all who remember and care for them, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For all who have died in the hope of the resurrection, and for all the departed,

let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and degradation,

let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the absolution and remission of our sins and offences, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

That we may end our lives in faith and hope, without suffering and without reproach, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Defend us, deliver us, and in thy compassion protect us, O Lord, by thy grace.
Lord, have mercy.


In the communion of the blessed Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist and all the saints,

let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life to Christ our God. Amen.



O God, early in the morning I cry unto you.

Help me to pray and to think only of you. I cannot pray alone.

In me there is darkness but with you there is light,

I am lonely but you do not leave me.

I am restless but with you there is peace.

In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience.

Your ways are past understanding, but you know the way for me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)


I encourage you to listen to, or even sing one of these hymns as you reflect.

Abide with me
O love that will not let me go
Lead kindly light (listen to the Audrey Assad version online – it’s beautiful!)