March 4, 2020
As we move into the month of March, let us consider the change of seasons. Have you ever dreamed of having summer all year long? Maybe spring or fall? And heaven forbid someone would want winter 12 months of the year! Living in Minnesota brings the reality of four, distinct seasons to our lives. We see dramatic changes for plants, animals and even people to make these transitions.
These are not random changes but adaptations that create cycles of life that can be remarkable.
Someone was quoted as saying “In Ohio the seasons are theatrical. Each one enters like a prima dona, convinced its performance is the reason the world has people in it.” A clever way to summarize the drama of seasonal change.
Seasonal changes are different around the world, they seem to be relative to their location on the earth. Many places have only a wet and dry season. Others a cold and colder season!
In the Arctic the warm season is where only the surface thaws for a short period of time, leaving the ground permanently frozen and aptly called permafrost. In spite of inhospitable conditions, a rebirth of plants and animals occurs in this very brief Arctic summer.
When one has lived with four seasons of change all their life, traveling to warm climates in the winter can bring a sense of being “out of place.” Christmas lights strung on palm trees with no snow on the ground or even in the forecast seems a strange oddity. But transition usually comes quickly as warmth can ease arthritis stiffness and daily walking and exercise are much easier. Especially when not wearing hats, boots, gloves and winter coats or dodging icy patches or trudging through snow drifts or shoveling sidewalks.
1) As a child, growing up on a farm in the country gave me the opportunity to experience the joys of the changing seasons directly. In spring we sloshed through puddles either in galoshes or barefooted. We examined the buds that were ready to burst forth from lilac bushes, apple trees and the like. We climbed trees to peek into the birds nests to see the color of the eggs and then watch as the babies emerged and grew. New calves were born and baby piglets squealed as we tucked them into our baby carriage! And of course dandelions and violets were the bouquets gathered for our mother as she planted our huge garden full of every vegetable I hoped my dog would eat!
2) Summer brought hundreds of hikes to the back woods and the creek where the fish made their way from Little Lake to North Center Lake. The assortment of wildflowers made better bouquets, the tadpoles turned to frogs that sang loudly in the ponds. The stars were incredibly brilliant as we lay in the warm grass looking up at night. And the fireflies were our mini lanterns that never ceased to amaze us. God’s handiwork was all around me and a deep sense of the miracle of creation was embedded in my heart, mind and soul. I’ve never lost the “awe” of seeing how living things are connected. I cannot believe all this was just a random merging of particles from the “big bang.”
3) As fall approached the garden yielded the remaining bounty and luckily my dog ate lots of vegetables. Being young, harvesting the crops was a spectator sport rather than the back breaking participation of the adults. But again the observation of a seed being tucked into the soil months ago, now having turned into wagons of oats and cobs of corn that filled the corn cribs was a lesson in God’s blessings given to us.
As the maple trees in our pasture turned crimson, yellow and orange and autumns blaze surrounded me, I felt glorious. Had God done this artistic display to impress the enormity and wonder of his abilities on me once again? To quote a line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “You had me at hello.” I was already filled with awe at his power. This was just another sample of his glory.
The cooler temperatures of fall suited me better than summers sweltering heat and gathering those vivid leaves to make colorful artwork or piles to play in passed many an hour.
4) I was always sad to see fall become winter. Not just because of the cold but it was drab and it restricted my outside activities. Winter clothing back then was a far cry from today’s efficient thermal wear. Once your mittens got wet we donned double pairs of socks on our hands. Layers and layers of bulky sweaters and coats and wool socks that made getting boots on and off a two person feat. No more hiking across the fields to meet a neighbor friend. Of course shoveling snow out of our long driveway so my dad could drive in at night used a lot of that pent-up energy. I wondered why God had to make this such a long season. I have grown to realize God may have brought this dormant season to the natural world so creation could have a time of rest and rejuvenate itself in preparation for the coming rebirth of spring. And possibly to have a greater appreciation for the rest of the seasonal cycle. A quote from Anne Bradstreet states it well. “If we had no winter the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
Even in the harshness of winter, God occasionally gives us a glimpse of beauty in his creation. He sprinkles some of those glorious days when everything from trees, bushes and even stubborn standing weeds are clothed in a glistening, white coat of frost or snow. It can be spellbinding to see such beauty.
Ecclesiastes notes there is an appointed time for this inevitable nature of change. He does not pinpoint those times for the reader but lists conditions that work to balance one thing with another. He contrasts many elements but I will simply highlight Chapter 3 verses 1 & 2;
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”
Our world is not random. It is intentional and connected to create balance.
When my mother died in 2013 at age 93, I realized our lives are very much like our four seasons.
There is Spring.
We are born.., bursting forth like the seed from the ground, leaves on the trees or baby birds in the nest.
We receive the life-giving water of Baptism, washing our souls clean like the spring rain that washes away the old residue of a past season. We are born into varying circumstances that shape our growth and development. A good, loving family can nurture healthy, well adjusted children much like good soil, timely rain and adequate nutrients produce healthy, vigorous and fruitful vines and plants.
Those born into less than ideal situations often struggle like the plants and animals trying to develop in poor conditions.
Some are neglected and even abused making me wonder how they ever have a chance to develop into something better. Very seldom are conditions or families perfect but we must always have hope.
Soon the Summer of Life Comes Along.
It is a busy time working, raising families, buying a house, car and whatever else people see as necessary to make the most of these longer days of life. Much like the natural world around us, this season is full of energy and dreams, growth and development.
The summer of life can be a glorious time or it can be a challenge since it brings both sunshine and storms. It can be fun and games or hard work. Striking a balance is important. My husband Dan used to say golfing wouldn’t be so much fun if he weren’t getting away from all the farm work to do it.
The summer is also a time when people can become so involved in life and so busy they don’t have time for God. No time to pray, no time for church. The spiritual garden is left untended. We forget to recognize our successes as gifts from God. Then when storms come and life is not smooth sailing, it may feel like God is very distant, leaving frustration and doubt weighing on the mind. But as in the aftermath of a severe storm, rebuilding that relationship and reconnecting with God through prayer, allows the warmth and rain of summer to bring back the blossoming of a spiritual garden within us.
Fall Creeps Into Our Lives.
Before we know it, years have gone by, children have grown and we are transitioning to a different phase of life. We may find a bit less energy to maintain the hectic pace of “summer.”
There may have been losses that have tested our faith and resolve but brought compassion and sincerity to a deeper level of understanding. It can be the time of those blazing fall colors that dazzle the eye in the form of grandchildren. Or harvesting the bounty of years of hard work. Retirement could be on the horizon and with it the delight of longed for vacations. Or fall may bring the uncertainty of finances in the future. Whatever the case, it is a time of preparation for the resting phase God has created.
Often not welcomed but inevitable, it brings changes we have little control over. The mind will often work to overcome the frailty of the body. I think my mother stayed age 86 for about five years.
The comedian George Carlin once said life should have been done in reverse. His comic proposal says:
The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends.
I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time.
What do you get at the end of it?
What’s that, a bonus?
I think the life cycle is all backwards.
You should die first; get it out of the way.
Then you live in an old age home.
You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch,
you go to work.
You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.
You drink alcohol, you party,
you get ready for high school.
You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb,
You spend your last nine months floating…
His last line is not appropriate to say in church and God has a much better ending in store for us than George Carlin’s reversal of life.
But the journey is not meant to be easy. The final season of life comes in many forms and time frames. Some winters are gentle and the body slowly reminds us of its weakening. Other winters come in with a vengeance, brutalizing and crippling movement. It is the season where reflections of life are made. Wisdom can be passed on to the next generation in hopes they learn from our successes and failures. There may be a sense of being closer to God than ever and the hope of finding comfort in the promise of a place where pain is no more.
We live in the hope that God will provide the best outcome as we navigate these seasons of our lives. He sent His son to give us that hope, to show us the way. We move through this season of Lent, reminding us of the productive times and the storms Jesus endured. Culminating in the greatest rebirth of all, His resurrection that promises a never-ending season of love in the Kingdom of God.