Spiritual lessons from a Canadian winter

Canada geese on ice-covered river. Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock
Published February 12, 2018

While out walking one morning in our snowy, cold but beautiful February sunshine, we heard the enthusiastic honking of Canada geese. Soon we saw several groups of them flying in familiar V-formation. I began to reflect on why these birds were not enjoying the warmer climes with so many of their kind who headed south last autumn.

My reverie continued and soon I was thinking about friends who follow a similar pattern to those vacationing birds during the winter months. They, too, migrate to points south in order to avoid unpleasant Canadian winter when the days are short and getting out of the house can be a challenge.

There is no doubting the fact that those who remain here—whether birds or humans—carry a considerable northern climate burden in winter. The allure of southern weather as a reprieve from the cold has always been strong.

I couldn’t get those geese out of my mind. Were they indeed too lazy, cautious or without courage for their own good? Perhaps, in fact, they were brave in their own way for remaining in a frigid setting. Perhaps they choose to stay simply because too many of their colleagues had chosen to leave. Perhaps there were factors confining them that I do not yet understand.

While risking the rebuke of my migratory friends—feathered and human—let me suggest a few spiritual lessons I have learned from many years of wintry Canadian experience.

No life is free from burden and unpleasantness. Many people spend a good deal of their earthly lives trying to avoid the bad things, but no one ultimately escapes sorrow and pain. Jesus promised us a “place” with him, but he also called us to be part of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Some cling to a vision of heaven as the “ultimate escape” from this vale of tears. I do not choose to be part of their number.

Nature, like life, can be both lovely and harsh. I believe that Canada geese experience much beauty and enjoyment in this country during winter. We Canadians have been learning how to survive and thrive here from the time Europeans were first helped to acclimatize by the First Nations. As new immigrants have replaced the old, our cumulative genius has created a northern nation unlike any other. From the beginning, the Great Spirit has helped us to accommodate good and bad, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.

Canadians (like our birds) have come to value community—not only for survival, but also to enhance life. I value our society for its unique domestic benefits and global contributions. Throughout our history, churches have championed religious faith for a maturing nation. What could ever adequately replace creative spiritual communities?

The gospel offers something unique in a secularized world. That is the message of hope. The Good News, which we continue to advocate for our confusing times, is more than a message of optimism that things will turn out for the better. Our hope is founded on what we know as truth from Scripture, tradition and the gift of human reason. This, we have thought, distinguishes us from the birds.

And yet, our resident Canada geese may possess more intelligence than we may credit them.






  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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