Winter Dormancy

Late winter is a quiet time for any gardener, especially in more northern climates. Although there are a few crops that can be planted indoors to put outside in early spring, for the most part it’s too early to get started. Tomatoes grown indoors now will be too leggy by Memorial Day. Other early spring crops, like peas, do best in the warmed ground to begin. Winter is a time of stillness and relative inactivity for the gardener.

Yet beneath the surface of the ground, there is activity that is invisible to the human eye. Bulbs that were planted in the fall are undergoing a period of dormancy, but that dormancy is crucial to their coming to bloom the following spring. When the bulbs are planted, they immediately soak up all the moisture and nutrients from the soil that they can get and begin to put out shoots. As the deep freeze comes, their growth is halted. Yet this period of cold dormancy is necessary if the bulb is to last more than one season. A period of rest allows the plant to grow in a more robust way in the longer term.

God’s life in us can sometimes be like that dormant bulb. We can experience times of relative quiet and inactivity where nonetheless significant growth is happening beneath the surface. I remember once going through a period of dryness for several months; while it seemed that “nothing was happening” in prayer, God was active in a way that was imperceptible. After the dryness ended, my prayer life shifted from a more active form of imaginative prayer to one of contemplation. While I still cannot say quite what God was doing during the time of quiet, the joy that followed was like the blossoming of a flower after dormancy.

Our relationships can be like the underground bulb, too. Marriages can undergo quieter, less passionate phases before re-blossoming anew. Friendships can undergo a period of dormancy, if they are later to flourish—for example, when friends move, or are busy with a new baby, or are newly married. Even if active communication is lessened, we can remain close to friends at such times in prayer.

While we must cultivate and tend to our relationships with one another and with God, even in periods of our own dormancy, God is ever active.

Image by Christine (spanginator) under Creative Commons license.


  1. Many years ago a series of major events took place in my life that left me feeling like my world had been pulled out from underneath me. At the time I hadn’t been as faithful in my prayer or worship, had not devoted the time to it as I should have, and so I drifted farther away from God rather than moving towards Him in a positive and healing fashion.
    Eventually I called it quits – gave up on faith altogether, threw my bible and rosary into the garbage, believing I could go it alone in my new reality as there surely was no God. There was no peace in that place, nothing could fill the void I’d created by pushing God away, and the more I came to realize this, the more I sensed God waiting somewhere on the periphery of my soul’s vision, waiting for me to make the next move. I caved, made an attempt at prayer after several years absence from faith, experienced a flooding of what I think you call “consolation”. I eventually went to Confession, talked it out with the priest. I bought another bible, another rosary, and have been living the transformation ever since.
    It’s difficult for me to describe what was happening underneath it all, what God was cultivating in me after I’d stopped praying, believing, etc. but the one thing I can say is that without and outside of God there was nothing truly meaningful, nothing as life giving as living in Christ. As you describe, Marina, the joy I experienced after my desert experience was miraculous. I may have given up on God for a period of time, but God hadn’t given up on me.

    • Thanks for sharing. It’s true that God never gives up on us and is patient when we are going through our own difficulties. Peace be with you.

  2. Very helpful image for me right now. I know a lot is happening in my spiritual life, but the surface evidence is scarce. Nature teaches patience.


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