Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
January 4, 2021 — It’s cold in the Midwest. There’s already snow on the ground beneath my feet, having fallen two weeks before the calendar on my wall told me winter would officially begin. I am currently willing myself to take a walk around my neighborhood because it’s all too easy to hibernate like a grizzly bear until April. But I know what will happen if I do.
My mental health, like that of so many others, takes a heavy hit every winter. As a native Texan transplanted to Iowa, I lack the hardiness of my local friends who take the changing of the seasons in stride. The frost keeps me stubbornly inside my house more often than it should. My instincts crave the cozy warmth of the couch even when what my soul craves is earth.
But I remind myself that fresh air and sunshine can ward off depression if I give them the chance, hence my begrudging daily walk in sub-freezing temperatures. I push my youngest two children in our mammoth double stroller, huffing and puffing, dodging patches of ice, and watching my breath rise like steam before my eyes. Winter gear is critical for getting outdoors during these icy months, I’ve learned, which is why the only thing on my Christmas list this year was snow pants. If the open door holds the key to my winter happiness, then by golly I’d better suit up to walk through it.
Even as I grumble about the expedition, I’m glad I’m doing it. Hiking a solitary trail is usually impossible as a mom with five kids, but a spin around the neighborhood works in a pinch. Even here there is air to be breathed, frozen trees to be admired and undeterred critters to observe. Even here in the middle of town my heart is being renewed.
As I walk, my thoughts take me to our fledgling Catholic Worker community housed just a few blocks away. I think about how we bring our family every Saturday to don face masks and eat an outdoor meal beside men who have lived a very different kind of life than ours. After many years of fumbling with the works of mercy and service to the poor, I’ve slowly learned that solidarity is really only possible when there is a relationship of reciprocity — I’ve learned I need marginalized people every bit as much as they need me.
The smell of the air and the slosh of the snow renew my mind, and it dawns on me that this principle of reciprocity applies to the care for creation as well. If mutual dependence is God’s most perfect intention for human-to-human relationships, isn’t it also God’s intention for the human-to-creation relationship as well? Can our environmental activism and efforts at sustainability ever be complete otherwise?
When Catholics talk about our mandate to care for creation we so often focus on creation’s need for us, which is not an error so much as it is an incomplete picture. Because as much as the earth needs our commitment to her, we also need her commitment to us. And there is no reminder as acute to me as those long cold months when the two of us are largely separated by walls and roof.
It’s occurring to me that, sneakily enough, the winter months offer me a great gift: the opportunity to truly recognize my dependency on the earth. Not just acknowledging the human need for natural resources, although that’s important too, but the deep, guttural, intrinsic need within me to encounter creation through my five senses and to let those encounters heal something within me.
In the other months it’s all too easy to take the nourishment of the earth for granted, to fail to see how every day she upholds and sustains my health and joy. But during winter I am forced to feel longing. I would choose any of the other three seasons over this season of stillness and ice, but it is winter that brings the necessary reminder of my desperation for communion with the earth. As is so often the case, what I need is that which I would never choose.
I steer the stroller toward home with a fresh perspective. My resolve to spend time outside every day this winter is still important, but now I see another calling as well: a calling to hold space for my need for creation and to let the recognition of that need propel me to care for her the way she deserves. Not because creation needs me, but because we need each other.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.