Seasonal Reflections Part 2 of 2: Connection, Companionship, Community, Celebration.
In Part 1 we discussed ways converts can be feeling very depressed and disconnected at this “most difficult time of year”.
Allah says in the Qur’an that He made cycles of the earth specifically for those who want to remember and be in a state of thankfulness. The Qur’an is FULL of references to the natural world as a source of inspiration and confirmation for our faith. It’s natural for people to feel and observe the changes in the world around them, and connect them to the changes in themselves.
Living in the Northern Hemisphere, there are certain ways of feeling and reacting to the cycles of the natural world here that we have incorporated into our many holidays but which are actually culturally-specific ways of meeting normal human needs. We are feeling the same way everyone else feels when the days get short, dark, and cold.
Have you ever noticed that most American holidays are during the cold, dark months? We start with Halloween and Thanksgiving in the late fall, and then some observe the winter Solstice and Advent, and then we move on to Christmas (and for some more traditional practitioners, the Twelve Days of Christmas), then New Year, next up is Valentines Day, maybe even St. Patrick’s Day, and finally Easter and its surrounding holidays and observances. (Hanukkah and Passover also fall within this time period.)
It seems that our culture has put a lot of emphasis on ensuring we have close connections with God and each other during the time in which we are most likely to be deprived of them and when the difficulties of our lives demand that we be reminded of them.
And for good reason. The long winter is coming. It’s going to get cold, dark, and dangerous. Is the Polar Vortex going to come back? Are we going to lose power for days? People are going into a kind of hibernation.
In the “old days” people knew they were entering a time of forced into separation from their neighbors due to harsh weather and early sunset. Death and destruction were likely. And while we like to think that technology has made things “different now”, not much has truly changed- most of us are busy, working, stressed out, exhausted. We don’t like to go out in the cold, and if the roads are dangerous we literally cannot go out.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, low Vitamin D levels, influenza outbreaks, and overall lack of exercise and sunlight, all drag us down physically and mentally. Driving to and from work/school in the dark and in icy weather is incredibly stressful on the body and mind. Global warming/climate change is making our weather more extreme and destruction is becoming more common.
When people feel they are in a place of darkness and loneliness they are comforted by food, warm drinks, and lights (candles, lanterns, etc.) They bring little pieces of nature (or plastic imitations of that nature!) inside the home- green, orange, red, yellow- to give their lives color. They eat oranges! They turn on music that is either festive or deeply spiritual.
But most importantly, people want to feel the presence of God and know that they have other people, other hearts to connect with in times of need. We NEED other people to provide physical help during times of crisis, and provide heart-to-heart support when distance and darkness become overwhelming. And we need other people to help remind us and reconnect us to God. Even when we can’t physically connect with others, we can connect through shared memories, because sometimes simply the knowledge that there is someone who cares for us, shares our hopes, believes in us, reminds us of God, and prays for us, can carry us through a time of darkness.
Let’s make an action plan for winter!
We want to observe the connections between the changes in the natural world and the changes in ourselves.
I personally have no problem with bringing non-religious seasonal decorations into the home such as gourds, leaves, or pine branches to bring color and a sense of energy. Then we want to use this time to discover ways we can increase our connection to God. We are encouraged to take advantage of the long nights and that extra seclusion by making sure to spend time in worship during the night. If fajr has been difficult, late sunrise provides an opportunity to taste the benefits of not missing a prayer and to even try going to the extra step of getting up before fajr and tasting the benefits of regular tahajjud. We can enjoy the beauty and ambiance of this time by lighting pretty candles and lanterns to “light up the night”, and by greeting this time with warm drinks and the sound of you reciting Qur’an or doing some quiet dhikr.
Connecting to the natural world and oneself can also mean enjoying times by the fireplace, spending time outdoors with family, friends, and animals, or participating in winter sports. I’ve always felt something special about the feeling of perseverance that comes from spending time outdoors in the cold, and the deeper level of comfort coming in from the cold invokes. Braving the cold to spend time with the horses or shovel snow or just to walk around makes me feel strong and capable, and makes me feel closer to God and the important things in life. In this way I find winter to be a very spiritually enriching time.
Companionship and Community:
We want to honor our need for community and companionship, and find ways to stay connected and supportive of each other. Invite each other over for hot chocolate and warm soup. Or deliver some. Join communities of sisters who are supporting each other in keeping and expanding knowledge and practice of faith. We don’t have to be alone during the winter, and we can continue to live in the shelter of each other.
We want to celebrate each other and plan ahead for the celebration of our faith when the time comes. For converts, we can remember what we loved about the holidays growing up and use our memories as a foundation to create our own magical holiday traditions for Eid. Clip those cookie recipes for future use and buy decorations that fit for Eid when they go on sale 75% off!
In the meantime, Look for any opportunity to celebrate meaningful things and gather with people who share your goals and joys, especially if you feel a sense of loneliness and loss at this time of year. Celebrate each other- graduating, “shahadaversaries”, hijab beginnings, Qur’an accomplishments (memorized your first sura ever? HAVE A PARTY), and salah goals alongside the usual baby showers and weddings. Or start a book club, discussion group, or halaqah, even if it is small. Or just have a gathering for its own sake and weave into the gathering something that feeds us in all of these elements of “Connection, Companionship, Community, and Celebration.”
Finally, take care of your mental and physical health!
Another winter-related issue that commonly affects converts is that we often confuse normal life changes and issues with a crisis of faith. This can include mental health issues and normal life transition emotions. So if you find yourself feeling heavily depressed at this time of year, do make sure to get checked out by a doctor. Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by lack of natural light, depression, lack of exercise, and Vitamin D deficiency among other things can affect us during the dark, cold months as well. Anxiety and depression are endemic worldwide as well, and Muslims are not immune from the challenges of our times.
Tell us how you are finding Connection, Companionship, Community, and Celebration this winter!