Living a Seasonal Life

We are removed from the seasons.

With the exception of farmers and gardeners who grow their own food, the rest of us depend on the grocery store. We can buy our tomatoes in February, gather together our fruits and vegetables from all over the world and carry them home to our heated houses. It doesn’t matter if there is snow on the ground. Our dinner plates and house temperature are unaffected by the season.

The problem with losing our connection with the natural rhythm of the seasons, is that we forget that harvest has a season, as does planting, as does waiting for it all to grow, as does resting the land, which comes when the harvest is finished.

When everything we want is produced automatically, we begin to assume that is normal. We assume that we too should constantly be in production mode, and we assume that stillness, waiting, recovery is all wasting time.
And we burnout. We live guilty lives, feeling as though we are not doing enough.

If there is one lesson, I have learned through COVID, it has been the danger of pressing on as if life were still happening in 2019.

In our desire to “return to normal” we have bounced back(ish) into whatever semblance of normalcy we can, trying to produce our way to recovery.

We have resumed our frenetic lives, in addition to the little extras COVID throws at us here and there, and yet we can’t shake the low-level anxiety, depression, and exhaustion that just hovers below the surface.
If only we could embrace the God given natural rhythm of the seasons.

It is February. The trees are bare, the ground is frozen. The grass is a dull yellow, everything looks dead.

But not producing isn’t death. Parker Palmer, in his book Let Your Life Speak brilliantly puts it, “The little deaths of autumn are mild precursors to the rigor mortis of winter (Palmer, 100).”

We assume because we are not seeing fruit then the tree should be cut down and thrown into the fire. Jesus thought the same thing of the fig tree in Mark 11, although Mark notes that “it was not the season for figs.”

In his Gospel of Mark class at AMBS Willard Swartley taught us that this was a parallel to the “leafy looking health, and lack of fruit” that was the temple. Did Jesus really curse a fig tree even though it was not in season? (We’ll table that for a later blog).

God created seasons for a reason, which is why sabbath and jubilee are prescribed in the Old Testament. There is a command to let even the ground rest so that it can be ready to be planted, grow, and produce again.

Winter is when creation rests. Palmer goes on to say, “Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter– it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined to do the same thing for ourselves (Palmer, 101).”

I find myself frequently admonishing our CALL students to give themselves grace. They continue to live in their communities, work, and raise families while they are taking ministry classes online.

I can sense the myth of continuous production they are burdened with, as if they can fully practice everything they are learning and continue their regular lives. I am sure they feel the cultural expectation.

But while I admonish the students I have under my guidance, who is admonishing the rest of our communities? Who is admonishing healthy rhythms of being in our workplaces, in our colleges, and in our churches?

Anyone who grows up in Kansas knows the historical lessons of not letting the ground rest. With the invention of mechanized farming implements the lure of the continuous harvest led to overworking the land, combined with a drought and the Kansas wind the “dust bowl” was born.

I know what it is like to be so burned out that I felt like I could disintegrate into the wind, but I pushed on because I fooled myself that whatever needed done, I could keep on doing it.

I never want to experience that again, and I fear for so many I see around me who are pushing through trying to reach pre-pandemic normal.

Friends, even if we ever hit pre-pandemic normal, you will need to be healthy enough to enjoy it. Embrace season living. Allow yourself time to regain your strength, so that you can live into the future harvest.

-Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer. Jossey-Bass, 2000.