In the Winter

Text and art by I. Lilias Trotter

It is winter… but go out on a winter day and stop at the first tree you see. Here and there on the bare boughs you will find a tiny knot and within it, plaited, folded, crumpled or coiled, lies the glory of the leaves to come. They are all there covered up, for God has many thoughts over his baby buds and many plans for toning down the light that might draw them out before their time…

We have seen many a frost fall and we have learned the delicacy of undeveloped life and the withering power of the icy air around. We have seen stray, isolated shoots grow brave beyond their fellows through the fostering of a few warmer days, only to become a mark for the bitter blasts that follow. We long for something more enduring; we long for the spring. The most fragile buds will open fearlessly then. Even the three and a half years of the ministry of the Son of God on earth resulted only in a winter bud of timid, half-comprehending souls until Pentecost came.


Come thou north wind,
Breathe thou south wind;
Breathe upon my garden
That the spices may flow out.

The north wind tears down the dead wood and holds back the buds that are opening prematurely. They are getting ready by repression for strong life when the south wind blows.

We need the north wind to bring about the readiness for spring and, when the clearing blast has done its business, the south wind will blow. The first answer to the Lord’s prayer for Peter that his faith should not fail was the utter breakdown of his faith at the first test. But it was just a step on the full road to Pentecost.


When will the north wind have done its work? And when will the south wind rise from its land of eternal summer? Is it waiting for a wider vacuum?


Like clumps of frozen snow… No leaves came first to rouse expectation or to shelter the flowers; they have taken their position by storm with hardly a scout to lead the way. And it has come afresh to me that, because he is preparing some like miracle of grace, God has left one bit of his orchard with leafless boughs, while the tracery of fresh green is seen far and wide. It may be that he needs no preparatory stages of advance toward the goal. A week ago they said, ‘A cherry tree is in bloom,’ and the day after, whole orchards were snow-white. Who can tell which tiny movement is the precursor of spring and blossom-time in the bare boughs…? Some hidden faith-act on our side may suffice to set free the life current, and the marvel of springtime… will stand revealed.


The soldanella flowers have come with a new parable of hope to me about souls imprisoned under the ice-crust… It is as though we had been trying to break away the ice, trying to find some solitary life-germ and clearing a way to the sunshine. But we have found so few and they have been such poor, stunted things.

But what if God begins from the other side, generating a glow of Holy Spirit fire from within? No matter if, for the moment, it is a hidden process; nothing can be seen of the soldanella under the ice until the top of the air-bell gives way and the flower is there. I believe a moment will come of a sudden breaking forth of that which has been working below the surface, and the miracle of the snowfields will be wrought afresh by the crowding up of human souls who have won through the hardest fights.


For us, in our small way, there is only one place where we can find the deepest heart-brokenness; it is down before the broken heart of Jesus, broken for our sins, for our selfishness, for the world about which we have cared so little. Emptiness, yieldedness, brokenness, these are the conditions of the Spirit’s outflow. Such was the path taken by the Prince of Life to set free the floodtide of Pentecost.