SEVEN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES: Sabbatical Reflections
# 6: Seasons
“To everything, turn, turn, turn,
there is a season, turn, turn, turn…”
– Pete Seeger, based on Ecclesiastes 3:1
[During my sabbatical I have been reflecting on seven practices for spiritual growth, common to all three Abrahamic traditions. Jews, Christians and Muslims share these ancient paths to God, which are the basis for Brian McLaren’s book “Finding Our Way Again.” I’ve asked folks at the church I serve to read that book this summer. I believe the seven practices found in McLaren’s book are so important, so useful that I have also been blogging about them during this time. The first entries were about Sabbath, Prayer, Fasting, Feasting and Giving. This, the sixth, is about “Seasons.”]
I began writing this entry on the day of summer solstice (this year it was at 1:16 pm EDT, June 21). “Solstice” is rooted in Latin words that suggest the sun stands still. In elementary school I learned how solstices in both summer and winter, along with autumnal (fall) and vernal (spring) equinoxes, mark the start of nature’s seasons. On summer solstice there is, at least in this part of the world, more daylight than at any other time of year. I still hold close an early childhood memory of getting to stay up late enough to see the sun go down on the longest day of the year.
In celebration of this particular transition of seasons, I attended a gathering hosted by Philip, a pastor now serving in a Memphis church. He invited me to join his staff and significant others for an official solstice party. You might ask, What? Hasn’t the summer arrived, weeks ago? What about all this heat? If climate change is real, it may be altering the way we experience the seasons.
What season does it feel like to you? Or, as I sometimes ask when I try to break the conversational ice in a group, What season are you in? Inside as well as out, it may feel like summer to you. Or you might find yourself in a different place, an interior season that feels like anything but summer. I am speaking metaphorically here. Metaphors are figures of speech. They can take on a life of their own, sometimes even naming our experience of life. Seasons, one of my teachers tells us, “is a wise metaphor for the movement of life.”
Parker Palmer, that teacher, has built an entire methodology for a practice of spiritual renewal using the “seasons” metaphor. “The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all – and to find in all of it opportunities for growth” (from Let Your Life Speak).
What season are you in? Chances are your seasons are something like mine – complex, full of metaphor and paradox. I’ve chosen some of Parker’s seasonal images and phrases, placing them into questions for our spiritual lives:
• How are you in the midst of both great beauty and gradual decline, feeling the power of autumn’s reminder that “daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life?”
• In what way do you find yourself in winter, resting from life’s rigors, yet knowing that “winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them?”
• Where is the glorious springtime of your life, which before it becomes beautiful, must, unfortunately, first be “plug ugly,
nothing but mud and muck?”
• How might you be caught in summer’s tension, between the scarcity of drought and flood and the abundance that comes when “when we have the sense to choose community?”
“Summer,” Palmer goes on to say, “is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn and winter and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest. In summer it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life. Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in – a reminder that, for this single season at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life” (ibid.)
People of faith also observe religious seasons, creating a rhythm of time punctuated with “holy days.” We mark those days “with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past, so that this past will have a future, so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year” (Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again). All of God’s creation, it seems – even a faith community – moves through cycles of grace-filled seasons. That grace is ours to receive. May you and I embrace life anew, by learning from every season of it! – Peace, Tom