Seasons: The Lesson of Life
Man was made for seasons, and seasons for man. This is true of all kinds of seasons, but the crackling clarity of Fall has brought it once again to mind. The changing of the seasons reminds us of the passing of our lives.
The Seasons of Nature
The most universal of the seasons are the seasons of the year. In each there is both a mood and an invitation to reflection which has been part of the wisdom of man from the beginning. Every age and every culture recognizes the new birth of Spring, Summer’s strength, the glorious decline of Fall, and Winter’s death. The seasons are tuned to the mysteries of life. Nature's cycle brings a certain inevitable understanding—sometimes joyous, often poignant—even to urbanites.
Most of us are able to relive this cycle many times, which is certainly a blessing, especially when we consider how often we realize too late that we have rushed distractedly through a season which is now passing away, an occasion of regret rather than joy. This experience should be a lesson in life, teaching us the importance of recognizing the different periods of our time on earth: the need to reflect on and capture the spirit of each, and to live appropriately.
The Seasons of Life
When we are young, we are in a hurry to grow old. During our Summer strength, we are much too busy. In our maturity, we agonize over lost purpose. And as we decline, we so often wish to return to youth. It is part of the difficulty of being human to struggle against the obvious: "For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
The key is to understand what matter or purpose suits each time or season. This is extraordinarily difficult because it requires three very rare commodities: peace, discernment and reliable instruction. Left to ourselves, most of us would never become wiser than nature forces us to be through her largely inchoate discipline and charm. We would doubtless gain some inkling of the importance of nurturing the young, of using our abilities to create and build, of directing others in our maturity, of distilling and passing on our reflections as we age.
But to what end? So that the seasons can go round and round again in what some have called the wheel of time? So that we can die and be forgotten, as meaningless as the dust from which we came? This is indeed the wisdom of those who think they have been left to themselves. How very fortunate it is not so.
The Seasons of God
Every true season is made by God. This first lesson of nature, which speaks so eloquently of a Creator, is by no means the least important. It ought to lead us to wonder whether God does not somehow create and orchestrate the seasons of our lives as He does the seasons of the year. To put the matter more formally, the contemplation of nature ought to serve as a gentle interior argument for some sort of revelation. It ought to spur us to find out whether nature’s God has also communicated in a language that we can more fully understand.
It is, of course, a long argument from there to Christianity. But at the end of that argument, we should not be surprised to find that God has also a supernatural set of seasons which He uses to translate the wisdom of the natural seasons into a language of purpose for our lives. These are the liturgical seasons, which enshrine not only the whole history of our salvation, but the blueprint for our response.
The Liturgical Seasons
The Liturgical Year begins with Advent, this year starting on November 28th. Advent is the period of preparation for that Revelation to which all nature points. The Christmas season follows, a time of birth and creative growth in which the Revelation will become visible. Through the period of Ordinary Time following Christmas, we become increasingly aware that this marvel of birth and growth will mature into something challenging, something for which we must train.
Lent provides this time of training, an intense effort to be somehow ready for the full impact of the growing Revelation. Then the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday unfolds the Revelation point by difficult point, culminating in the Easter Season in which the fullness of Truth bursts upon us in a moment of intense joy because, at last, our expectation is fulfilled.
Now we know not only how to live each season of life but why; and not only our purpose but also our destiny. The renewed stretch of Ordinary Time which marks the last portion of the Liturgical Year is no longer misperceived as ordinary in the sense of uninteresting, but ordinary in the sense of a regular motion of the weeks and months by which we measure our progress toward the goal and the Gift we have received.
The Flight of Time
Yet time flies, and we miss so much. As with the natural seasons, so with the supernatural: instead of greeting them with joy and living them through, we so often awaken only just in time to regret their passing. The arrival of Fall once again reminds us of a prodigious responsibility to love all of our seasons and use them well—one of the clearest lessons nature has to give.
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