For people in northern climes like Canada, the autumn season has arrived and most of us are transitioning from warm to colder weather. Nature runs in cycles, however, and eventually the frigid blasts will subside as milder spring weather evolves once more into summer delights.
I have lived in parts of the world where there is very little difference between the seasons and the days can be quite similar, no matter what the time of year. Canadians from east to west and from north to south experience distinctly different seasons. Frankly, I prefer a climate with variety!
No matter how cold the mid-winter, there is always the warmth of summer to anticipate. No matter how lovely the summertime, we know that it won’t last and there will soon be snow to shovel.
Nature’s cycles do not fit well into a linear way of viewing the passage of time. We Western thinkers have been programmed to believe that we are born, live for a while, and die. In the natural world and classic Eastern thought, there is birth, a lifespan and death. Then the process repeats itself.
To complicate matters, other dynamics are at work. We are now heading into a colder and darker time of year as the daylight declines, the sun’s rays grow indirect and coloured leaves fall from the trees. But at the time of the December equinox-and as we enter the depths of winter- the days become longer and the sun’s rays grow more direct and warmer. Eventually, green leaves appear again on the trees.
Most Canadians live through months of cold weather before that sense of renewal begins to register. Then in June, as we prepare to enjoy a period of summer bliss, the cycle reverses. Through July to September, winter is actually on its way!
What can we make of the seasonal cycles that might apply to our daily lives? The world of the spirit is naturally inclined toward the cyclical, rather than the linear. All the great faiths use liturgical calendars that flow from life to death to life again.
Recognizing and engaging the church year can be a most helpful way to understand our human experience. Living reflectively and observantly is enriching as we participate in the cyclical festivals of Advent through the conclusion of Pentecost. This repetition need not be boring or tedious. It can significantly broaden and deepen our faith journey.
No matter how brilliant the day or how happy our disposition, many are also affected by a certain melancholy and sadness.
The reverse is also true. No matter how bad things might get, there is a reason to hope for better times. Like the seasons, there is no “perfect” occasion. Real life is never all “sun” or all “shadow,” but simultaneously contains a bit of both.
This is probably a good thing. Recognizing the importance of balancing and integrating the positive with the negative in life is an important step to spiritual maturity.
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter-century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.