It’s springtime here in San Diego. We’ve had so much rain over the winter months which means now as the sun comes out and it starts warming up everything is bursting with color. The hills are green and lush, flowers are starting to bloom, and I swear even the sky is brighter shade of blue. Spring is not only the time for plants to emerge from dormancy after those long winter months, but the animals too — birds are chirping and butterflies are literally everywhere! Every time I go outside I get excited to see what new expression of life I will discover that day. It’s intoxicating.
I recently discovered that just like how every other living thing is impacted by seasons, humans experience seasons too. By that I don’t just mean the natural cycle of the year, but rather autumn, winter, spring and summer are real seasons experienced on our personal spiritual journeys’. I had heard the concept a few years back but it didn’t dawn on me until I was reading Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer that the metaphor of seasons can aptly describe our current lived experiences. Palmer writes:
“Seasons are a wise metaphor for the movement of life…The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all—and to find in all the opportunities for growth.”
Since making this discovery I have fully embraced the metaphor of seasons, finding it to be so helpful in giving words to those current lived experiences—both the inner life and outer circumstances—which sometimes make no sense. But more than that, the metaphor of the seasons validates our experiences, recognizing them all as necessary in our journey of transformation. We don’t have to fear the struggle of autumn or the desolation of winter, but acknowledge these times as just as crucial to our spiritual journey as the joy of spring and fruitfulness of summer.
Adele Albert Calhoun, in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us also explores the metaphor of seasons, giving description to what one might experience in each season:
Spring is the season of new life, new beginnings, new growth. Enthusiasm for the things of God accompanies spiritual springtimes. Desire for more of God breaks forth in a beautiful way. Calhoun suggests that the spiritual disciplines of worshiping in gratitude or celebration, hearing God’s word through the disciplines of bible study, devotional reading, meditation, and sharing our lives with others through practices of community or hospitality usually come easy during this season.
In the summer season of abundance the capacity and desire to give overflows. Serving others, working for justice, volunteering and engaging in outreach brings us life. During this season, the fruit of the Spirit of God seems tangible to us. We sense God’s love, joy, and peace in deeply satisfying ways. Again, practices that help us share our lives such as mentoring or service, as well as disciplines that help us incarnate God’s love, maybe through care for the earth, justice, or compassion are disciplines that help us partner with the flow of the Spirit in this season.
Autumn is a season of transition standing between the bounty of summer and the barrenness of winter. This season is a mixed bag of harvest and loss. Sometimes, even as we reap the fruit of sharing our lives with others, we sense a weariness of soul and a desire to hibernate for a time. Calhoun suggests the spiritual discipline of prayer such as centering prayer or fixed-hour prayer can help us acknowledge the authentic realities of our lives and guide us to move more deeply into relationship with God in this season.
Winter is a season when the well runs dry and we feel we are running on empty. It is a demanding season when death’s victory seems to reign supreme; it’s cold, it’s dark, and everything goes quiet. It’s a time when we need to wait in hope even when all hope seems to be gone, but ultimately winter yields rich growth that flowers in other seasons. For this reason Calhoun recommends spiritual disciplines that will help us relinquish our agendas and open new spaces of our lives for God to show up. Silence, spiritual direction, examen, journaling and contemplation are all practices that can sustain us in this dry season.
As Spring starts to reveal itself in nature here in San Diego, I find myself experiencing the joy of a Spring season in my own life too. New life and joy and light bursting forth in abundance after a season of darkness and confusion brought on by the burnout of my master degree. In those first few months after graduation I felt the Spirit of God call me to hibernate and rest, a call to literally do nothing with my life but rest. As someone who finds her identity in doing and achieving, giving myself permission to stop was really difficult, and as I walked through this winter season I had to face many hidden doubts, questions, confusion, and temptations. Yet through it all I came to understand how necessary it was for me to stop and lie fallow, embracing practices of silence, spiritual direction, contemplation to help me see God’s work in my life when everything felt beyond hope. I learnt to accept the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:1 which says “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.” And now, as I step into a springtime season I can look back on that winter will gratitude for all that it grew in me.
So dear reader, as you process your life and your own current lived experiences, may the metaphor of seasons be encouraging to you, may it bring meaning to both the joy and the sorrow, to the abundance and the death. And remember, there is a God who walks alongside you through it all, who sustains you through it all, and who allows the beautiful cycle of the seasons to manifest in your life deep growth and transformation.
The madness of love
is a blessed fate;
and if we understood this
we would seek no other:
it brings into unity
what was divided,
and this is the truth:
bitterness it makes sweet,
it makes the stranger a neighbour,
and what was lowly it raises on high.
~ Hadewijch of Antwerp, thirteenth-century poet and mystic.
‘Remember your Creator during your youth: when all possibilities lie open before you and you can offer all your strength intact for his service. The time to remember is not after you become senile and paralyzed! Then it is not too late for your salvation, but too late for you to serve as the presence of God in the midst of the world and the creation. You must take sides earlier – when you can actually make choices, when you have many paths opening at your feet, before the weight of necessity overwhelms you.’
~ Jacques Ellul in Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes