Minding the Gaps

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

“We carry our own light and move in love through the dark,
as the seed loves the earth enclosing it.”
-Christina Pacosz

Each season offers gifts all its own. January’s spare beauty seems fitting after the extravagance of the holidays. Trees have shed every outer expression of the living sap within. Icy streams conceal mottled fish resting below. Snow blankets the fields’ ridges, gullies, and rocks. Winter, in her unparalleled way, changes the view. What was once hidden under canopies of green is now revealed, while the things once readily apparent are now veiled.

Winter is a welcome arrival in the cycle of each year, but I sometimes feel frightened during the winter seasons of my life when “spare beauty” actually seems barren and desolate. I wonder where the vitality has gone. I fret; maybe the inner sap is no longer flowing and the creative stream has dried up. Does my life still hold meaning when I feel stuck and frustrated, my efforts coming to naught? I unwisely try to force something seemingly fruitful to happen. I want to bust out the butterfly from its imprisoning cocoon, knowing all the while that life doesn’t work that way. I would kill the still-transforming caterpillar in my violent attempt. I feel out of step with grace, either running ahead or dragging behind.

The phrase “mind the gap” is often painted on subway platforms in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, cautioning travelers to be aware of the gap when stepping between the platform and train. The gaps in life sometimes loom large and ominous. Gaps between present experience and future vision. Gaps between income and the budget. Emotional and physical distances between loved ones. Gaps between the current living situation and a longed-for homecoming. We live in the tension between our desire for greater fullness of life and the sometimes-difficult present realities.

Might we find grace in the gaps? Winter offers her wisdom. When darkness descends early on both our inner and outer landscapes, we are invited to trust the ever-renewing flame within. In lieu of the outer greening, we may find that the view changes, our insight growing sharper and more discerning. The sufficiency within us and available to us becomes more apparent. We might honor and hold the future vision in one hand while blessing our present reality with the other.

Before the birthing, a baby grows slowly and steadily in the dark enclosure of a womb. A seed lies contained in the black soil, dormant and still, but a seed nonetheless. The shape of a flower is already full within its being, future blooming held securely in fertile darkness. Both seed and flower are blessed.

If the landscape seems void and the visions so delayed in their fulfillment, then let us not miss the beauty of dark gaps and liminal spaces in our lives. Stars appear to shine more clearly in the winter sky, Orion’s belt looming large. All five of the brightest planets in our solar system will become visible together during late-January’s nightwatch, an event last occurring in 2005. Nature models the movement between inner rest and outward expression. Winter, both literal and metaphorical, issues an invitation to humbly enter the mysterious rhythm of life, to retire to bed a bit earlier perhaps, to let life’s conundrums rest for a bit without our fretful vigilance. Dreams are given to the quiet sleeper, dreams that nourish tomorrow’s blooming.


Kate-CoffeySavannah Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.

Into Spring and Beyond

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

Pulling in to the monastery, the snow was piled high on the abbey grounds. The walkways were cleared, as the monks had fastidiously kept the paths open for themselves and any guests who would take advantage of their hospitality. I arrived on a chilly day that began less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit—one of several guests seeking a quiet retreat. It had been a long snowy season, and this cold morning was perhaps one last, serious squeeze from old man winter.

I checked into my dormitory-style room in the abbey guesthouse, a very spartan layout, with a simple bed, a desk, and a small rug on the wood floor. Looking out the window, I was greeted with a winter view of a large snow-covered field bordered by leafless branchy trees. A few large icicles hung from the roofline. There was a small walkout balcony accessible to my second-floor room, with an area to sit outside on warmer days.

Arriving on this cold day for a brief retreat at the Benedictine Abbey, I was struck by the ongoing rhythm of the monks who live there. They go about their regular patterns of prayer and work, regardless of the season. Whether summer, fall, winter or spring—they faithfully enter the chapel space for prayers, from early morning matins to evening compline. Joining them, and settling into the rhythm of prayer, work, silence, eating and reflection was a welcome change from my normal busy family life. Sitting in the presence of these monks as they chanted the Psalms, I could feel something inside me warming to it, as a cat stretches and curls up by the fire on a wintry day.

And, as nature would benevolently have it, that kindling of inner warmth was echoed by the March sun, which woke us beautifully the next morning. By mid-afternoon, temperatures soared above 40 degrees for perhaps the first time in 2015. By late afternoon, the large icicles that had slowly formed over the previous months came crashing down. It was even warm enough for me to pull my desk chair out onto the balcony and sit (soak!) in the sunshine. And as the snow on the roof began to melt, creating a chorus of regular drips, I was reminded that every season gives way to another, and that God is with us in each one, even if our perception, or circumstances, or heart stirrings might change.

Newly nourished by these warm moments of sunshine, I walked along the melting snow-lined path to the chapel for evening vespers. I sat down quietly in the space reserved for guests. The monks, wearing their black robes, walked in at the appointed time. I wondered briefly if they had had a chance to enjoy the first glimpse of spring as I had. Either way, they did not blink or change rhythm one bit. They chanted the same Psalms, echoed the same prayers that they had been praying all winter, and would continue well into spring and beyond.


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He is the author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, and lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.