28 Sep Seasons of the Spirit
I love autumn. It is my favorite season. I love the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, savoring the first pot of chili, SEC football, mums on the porch, and all things pumpkin. I love the return to routine, the feel of soft, well-worn flannel pajamas, picking apples and making the season’s first fire. I’m glad it’s autumn on the calendar because spiritually, I’m a long way from this season of harvest and bounty.
Earlier this month I mentioned a book I am reading, Spiritual Rhythm, by Mark Buchanan. The author uses the metaphor of the changing seasons to articulate and better understand what happens in our spiritual lives. The winter of the heart is characterized by feelings of darkness, loneliness and often, depression or grief. We are unable to find pleasure or meaning in anything, and God can seem remote. Energy is hard to come by. But, there is important work to be done in winter. In particular, praying, pruning and waiting are critical activities during this season, all of which build character and faith in ways that no other season can accomplish.
I don’t think anyone enjoys the hard work of our spiritual winters, but I can honestly say that I am grateful for what winter builds in my life—though gratitude may not be my initial reaction to winter’s arrival. During this most recent winter, pruning was the work I most needed. I was forced to simplify my life, especially my schedule, and that simplicity is already showing signs of bearing fruit in unexpected ways which is what pruning does—by cutting away old, dead or less productive branches, pruning makes way for new life to emerge as the seasons change.
Spring, according to Buchanan, is the season of renewal—emotional renewal, physical renewal and spiritual renewal. What seems dry and dead in winter pulses with new life in spring. Joy is overflowing. You delight in everything. Energy is boundless which is a good thing because the activities of spring are plowing, planting and cleaning. Spiritually, to plow in this sense means to listen more deeply, to be attentive to God at work. We also plant. Spring is when we launch new initiatives, try new programs, add a ministry. And, we clean. This is a prime time to distinguish the habitual from the purposeful, mere busyness from real productiveness.
I am beginning to move into spring, and the way I am most aware of it is that I have been on a cleaning frenzy—at work, at home, in my car, indoors and out. The physical act of decluttering, organizing, and cleaning is mirroring an internal reality: renewal is at my door, and I want to make room for it, lots and lots of room. I can feel space opening in my head and heart with every bag of trash I haul out, every plant that sits sassily in its new pot, every drawer that I open and can see what’s inside, every box that gets donated to someone who can use what is only pointlessly taking up space in my closet. I’m also making calls, accomplishing errands, and crossing things off my “to do” list that for months I haven’t had the energy to do.
Summer is a season of fruit, warmth, light, rest, play, wonder, reunion and holidays, all of which, Jesus says, are signs of the Kingdom of God. In the summer our hearts experience vitality, connectedness and rest. You know you’re in summer when things flow. Fruit comes easily. Joy rises naturally. Light shines everywhere. You have energy to spare. The summer is bursting with activity and adventure. The days are long and we enjoy them, but we’re not in a hurry. We are deeply alive to God’s presence, we rejoice in the abundance of the season, and we live with gratitude rather than worry. We do need to be alert to settling for busy activity rather than fruitfulness, but the work of summer is to bask in all that is good and plentiful.
Finally, the heart in fall is, in a word, expectant. We wait and watch to see the results of the plowing and planting we did in spring. Buchanan identifies three harvests that we anticipate: a harvest of souls, a harvest of spiritual prosperity and a harvest of righteousness. In fall we reap and store what has been sown. We also feast and give thanks.
Which season are you in? One constant throughout the seasons is that God is always present, always working in our lives. We often experience God differently in the various seasons, but God’s faithfulness never changes. In season and out, God is our daily companion and friend.
Yours for the Kingdom,