For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
Today we want to honor and reflect on the seasons and, particularly since this is where we are, the season known as winter. It’s easy to honor spring. Spring is not only a time for planting, but life awakens – nature awakens. Ok. Weeds awaken too, but nothing’s perfect! Then there are the glory weeks of summer, when the plants shoot up like rockets, the days are long and, at least occasionally, lazy. In the autumn comes an abundance of fruits and veggies, and huge palate of colors. But what of winter? I mean, really, even the bears give up. “Just tell me when it’s spring,” says Papa Bear and then he lies down for a LONG winter’s nap!
For me, one of the great delights of moving from Southern California to Washington, almost twenty-five years ago now, was that spring, summer, fall, and even winter suddenly became more than abstract concepts. I was a reader. I knew what seasons were. But intellectual knowledge dwells in a different universe from personal experience. Now I could see that trees really did change color in the fall. And plant-life, indeed tended to sleep in the winter, only to re-awaken and bloom in the spring.
Many spiritual communities draw profound parallels between the four seasons of nature, and the spiritual seasons of our lives. And we will today.
Still, as Interfaithers, it’s worth keeping in mind that dividing the year into four seasons is a Western idea. In India, they recognize six seasons; in China, five. But we’re here. Let’s speak of the seasons we know, not because four seasons are the one truth, but because these are the seasons of our heritage. What all of our spiritual communities recognize are the profound changes that can come with the seasons of our lives, be they four, five or six.
The seasons are, of course, a very natural phenomenon. Let’s face it, it’s hard to have a spinning planet in an elliptical orbit around a sun and not have seasons – just as it is hard not to have darkness as well as light, night as well as day. And yet from the beginning, the changing seasons, the contrast of the light and the dark, have all provided powerful metaphors for our lives, and indeed have contained a deeply spiritual component.
There are times when I ponder how marvelous it must have been when humanity first realized that God or Nature has a reset button.
Morning, noon and the dark of night. But then, morning again. Spring, summer, fall, winter, but then spring again. A new beginning. How important new beginnings are to each of us!
There are times, and I have faced a few, when the darkness seems like it will never end. But it DOES end. And then … a sunrise. Sunrise!
The key, I’ve come to believe, is understanding not that the sunrise will come … but to be committed, to be committed to being a part of the sunrise – and not of the darkness.
The seasons too become a part of us, and a way of understanding our lives. One way is to see our spring childhood, the passionate heat of our summer youth, the maturity of our autumn, and the more reflective quality our winter years.
But another way of seeing winter is less a part of a progression through life, and more as a hole, to be climbed out of … of feeling stuck in winter regardless of our age.
In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone.
That’s pretty somber stuff. It happens to come from one of my favorite Christmas carols, but it still paints a vivid and thoroughly unpleasant image of the winter season.
From Simon and Garfunkel: “A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December.”
And, of course, there’s that rather famous opening soliloquy from Richard III, which in its hopeful optimism bypasses spring altogether.
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the sun of York.” The winter of our discontent. John Steinbeck was so attracted to the metaphor that he made it the title of his last novel. “The Winter of Our Discontent.”
The truth of it is that each of us will face a personal winter, or two or more in our lives. When the dark is all we can see, and the cold is all we can feel. This is not to be taken lightly or dismissed.
Just yesterday, I was reading about a computer genius, just twenty-six and atop the world, who hung himself because he could see no light ahead, only winter.
But always, always within the darkest winter lies the hope of spring. That is what the seasons can teach us.
I love this song. I can hear Bette Midler. “Just remember, in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow, lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.”
We can, if we will, see our winters as ripe with opportunity. After the autumn leaves have fallen, our winters, whenever they come, give us some time to prepare for the spring – the new beginning, the rose.
Honoring the seasons, honors the changes in our lives. Honoring the seasons, honors the truth that some changes are welcome, and some are not. But to live, is to know change.
The sun will rise, and there will be a new day. We cannot stop the new day from coming, even if we loved the day before. We cannot stop the new day from coming, but we can help to shape that new day. In all honesty, when I think of what we do here, sewing seeds of Interfaith, I see us as helping to shape the new day. And it warms my heart.
For everything there is a season. The changing of the seasons brings us new life, new challenges, new opportunities … if we will embrace them. This does not mean we must forget the wonderful past. But the changing of the seasons reminds us that no matter how wonderful, we should no longer live there. And if the past was not so wonderful, the changing of the seasons reminds us that we need no longer live there.
My favorite passage of Scripture remains the words of Micah: Act with justice, love compassion, and walk humbly. Second only to that for me, are the powerful words of Ecclesiastes. To everything there season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
May we embrace the seasons: of our world and of our lives.