This weekend, we change the clocks. From Sunday it’ll be dark at tea-time. We’re deep into autumn.
My daughter Bethany’s favourite seasons are summer and winter. At least part of the attraction of these seasons to her is the clothes you get to wear – light, colourful gear in the summer, warm, fashionable coats and scarves in the coldest months.
My friend Andrew mentioned watching on YouTube a classical pianist now approaching the end of her career playing the same works she’d performed as a young woman. These earlier performances were also available on YouTube and Andrew noted how little her interpretation of the pieces had changed throughout the turning seasons of her life.
Seasons mean different things to different people. If you’re a gardener or a farmer, each season brings new tasks and opportunities. Many of us relish the distinctive marks of the seasons: the awakening of the earth and new life budding in spring; the sun and warm rain of summer, long evenings, long walks, bees feasting in bright flowerbeds; in autumn, mist, the relief of harvest home, in the woods a million shades of brown; and winter – the sharp chill on your cheeks, the crisp challenge of frosty mornings, the welcome respite when you reach your front door.
And we have learned to view the seasons as symbols of our journey through life – the spring of our birth and our becoming, the summer of work and love and joy, the autumn of our maturity with its fruit of ripening wisdom, and winter – old age, courage, death.
Some of us have learned to see the seasons as mirrors of emotions we pass through. Hope is a springtime, joy a summer, foreboding and fearfulness an autumn, and the emotional deadness when it seems hope will never come again is a long winter season. Sometimes indeed, the seasons trigger negative emotions – as autumn brings melancholy, and a spring whose promise of joy we do not feel deepens our misery.
As Christians too, we pass through seasons of the soul – times of awakening and joy, times when God seems distant, our hearts cold.
Whatever the seasons mean to us, they have lessons for us. The seasons remind us that there is a time for everything in life: they challenge us to embrace ‘now’, to own the season of life we are passing through, doing, enjoying, taking opportunities while we still can.
They remind us to turn from our busyness and marvel at the beauty and wonder of the natural world. To Christians it expresses God’s creativity, and we thank God with that thankfulness which sets us free as we realise that the God who cares for nature cares much more for humanity.
The seasons remind us to be sensitive to the seasons of life, or the emotional seasons which those around us are passing through, and prompt us to reach out in practical ways to, for example, old people who are loneliness. We walk with one another through the seasons of our years.
And the turning of the seasons reminds those in emotional and spiritual winter, that spring will come again. Some unexpected instant we will detect the smallest bud of life in the deadness of our hearts. And Christian faith gives us hope even in the chill winter of extreme age, when the last leaves have fallen, hope of springtime in a new dimension, and challenges us to be always (as WW1 pastor Woodbine Willie put it) ‘true to Spring.’
The pianist playing the same pieces throughout a long life reminded me of the call to us as Christians to be consistent in all our seasons in letting the music of God’s presence and grace be heard in us.
And yet I was a little surprised at Andrew’s observation that there had been such little change in her performance. For music is more than simply notes, and I’d have thought that as a pianist ages, and brings the experience of her seasons to bear on the piece, understanding more profoundly what the composer meant, so her performance would grow in power and poignancy.
Christianity is about far more than just the ‘notes’ of words and actions. As God’s music is heard in us throughout our lives, throughout the turning seasons I’d have expected people to discern in us a greater awareness of the wonder of God and God’s world, a greater sense of mystery, a deeper perplexity at suffering and evil, a profounder confidence in divine love.
This Sunday, we change the clocks. But we can’t control time, for time is regulated by the heart of God. What we can do is to entrust ourselves, and those we love and our communities to the God of all our seasons who awakens in us a timeless music.
(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 24th October 2013)