Sunday, January 29, 2017

seasons

There is a particular rhythm and design to the world in which we live.  And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.  All we have to do is pay attention.  The leaves come and then they go, only to return once again in the spring.  The sun rises and then it sets, only to rise once again the next morning.  Day and then night, summer and then fall, winter and then spring, all a part of a beautifully choreographed dance that is ongoing in all of creation.  A dance that we were made to take part in.  But in order for us to be able to fully participate in this divine dance, we must recognize its existence and learn its movements.  For this dance has a certain progression that must be honored and joined into before we can know the beauty of its Creator's intent.  Simply stated, this life is comprised of different seasons, each with its own beauty and design that must be embraced and entered into, rather than denied, avoided, or resisted.  I guess that's why Solomon wrote: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)  And it is not until we recognize and embrace these seasons that we begin to discover that, he has, indeed, "made everything beautiful in its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Unfortunately, sometimes we aren't the best dance partners.  Sometimes we get so ingrained or entrenched in a particular season that we try to hold onto or prolong it long after the next season has arrived.  And one of the main characteristics of seasons is that they are ever-changing.  Seasons change, but will we?  Will we try to take the lead in this cosmic dance?  Will we try to control it and determine what it will look like?  Or will we be able and willing to surrender ourselves, and our will, to the will and the direction of the One who breathed us into being?  For if we do not trust ourselves and our care completely to the God who formed us and made us, then we will constantly have trouble keeping in step with whatever season we find ourselves in the midst of; either because we cling too tightly to a season that has gone by, or we jump ahead to a season that has not yet arrived.  Either way, we miss the beauty and the intent of what the here and the now has to offer us and to teach us.

The church calendar illustrates this well.  Advent is a beautiful season of watching and waiting for the coming Christ, but we can't continue to watch and wait for him if he has already arrived.  If we do that, then we miss him completely.  And Christmas is such a magical celebration of the gift of the Child who is born unto us.  But we can't continue to celebrate Christmas on into Epiphany, or we run the risk of trying to keep Jesus a baby, rather than allowing him to grow into our Lord and Savior.  No, we must allow ourselves to enter into Epiphany, where we see God in the flesh as he walks among us.  And we cannot stay at the foot of the Cross and refuse to run to the empty tomb, for He is Alive.  He is risen, that we might be as well.  It is the nature of the seasons that each has its own time and its own purpose.  And each prepares us for what is next.

The poets and saints who wrote the Psalms knew this well.  For each of the Psalms falls into one of three categories: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  Psalms of orientation describe a certain state of being (or season of life) when life is good and all is well in our world and in our souls.  It is a season that we all enjoy, and try to extend in any way possible.  But we can't stay in a state of orientation forever, lest we become lethargic and complacent.  We must be challenged or we will become stagnant and stop growing.  That's where disorientation comes in.  Psalms of disorientation are the ones where life has taken a horrible turn and we find ourselves reeling.  We are undone.  Life is out of control and we desperately want our equilibrium to be restored once more.  Disorientation occurs when life as we knew it has ceased to exist, and has thrust us into a new place and time which demands a new way of being.  Thus, the whole point of disorientation is reorientation.  God is disrupting us in order to make way for a new way of being and seeing to emerge.  That is what the Psalms of reorientation are all about. 

It is a continual cycle: orientation moves into disorientation, then to reorientation, which eventually settles back into orientation once again.  And if we fail to recognize and embrace whatever season we find ourselves in, then we run the risk of disconnecting from the larger story and getting stuck in our own smaller story; our own perceptions and explanations of where we are and of what is happening to us.  This can lead us down the slippery slope of thinking that we have been betrayed, or abandoned, or treated unfairly by life, or by God.  At which point we just simply refuse to move on to the next season until all of our questions have been answered or our demands have been met.

A beautiful passage in the Gospel of John (20:11-18) shows us a perfect example of this whole idea of seasons.  Jesus has been crucified, died and has now risen from the dead.  Mary is outside the empty tomb trying to process all that has just taken place, when she is approached by one whom she thinks is the gardener, but is, in fact, the risen Jesus.  As he utters her name she recognizes him and immediately reaches out for him.  And as she does, Jesus tells her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father."  Jesus is not being cold and uncaring, he is simply telling her that one season has come to an end and a new season has begun.  She mustn't try to cling to the old way on seeing him and being with him, for a new season had arrived.  From here on out life will forever be different.  Mary arrives at the tomb grieving and disoriented, sees Jesus and immediately in her joy tries to jump back to her old orientation of him, when  a total reorientation of her image of him and her relationship with him is necessary. 

And I think Mary offers us a great picture of what is required of us as we journey through the different seasons of life; whether it be the seasons of married life, seasons of parenting, seasons of friendship, seasons of community, seasons of career, or seasons in our lives with Jesus.  First, we must recognize and acknowledge that, whatever season we may have been in, a new season has arrived.  This will likely involve both a celebration of the past season, as well as a grieving of its passing.  If we do not adequately celebrate the joys of the former season we will likely become ungrateful, and if we do not adequately grieve its passing we will likely become bitter and frustrated.  Either way, a time of prayerful reflection on where we have been is enormously fruitful.  After recognizing that a new season has arrived the second step in the dance is to let go of that former season.  This is a place where we frequently get stuck.  Most of us are not very good at letting go.  Our tendency is to try and hang on to the old season far after its life has ended.  The problem is that when we refuse to let go of the old, we are unable to embrace and engage in the new.  For the old must not be merely let go of, but the new must also be embraced--which is the next step of the dance.  This is not merely a begrudging, reluctant acceptance of what is to come, but an active engagement in what God is up to, how he is at work, what he is trying to bring about both within and around us.  For it is not until we embrace this new thing, whatever it may be, that we are fully able and willing to receive it.  It is a gift to us, not just something to be dreaded and endured.  God is always about our becoming.  And what he wants us to become is the beautiful, strong, brave, courageous, kind, loving people he created us to be.  Reflections of his heart and his face and his Son on this earth.  For ultimately this entire process is not about us, but about him.  And the sooner we realize that, the more willing we will be to let the seasons run their course.

One last thing to be aware of in this whole discussion of seasons is what the saints call liminal space.  Liminal space is the space between.  It recognizes that between each of these seasons there is a transition period.  A space and a time where one season is vanishing and a new season has not yet arrived.  Liminal space is the place of trust.  It is the place of transformation.  It is that space between the passing of the old and the emergence of the new.  It is that time when we have been required to let go of one trapeze bar before the next one has arrived.  It is the place of dependence and surrender.  It is the space where all we can do is trust and pray, that in his own time and in his own way God will show up.  And when he shows up he will make us more alive and more whole than we were in the season before.  The new will come and it will be deeper and truer and more beautiful than we ever could have imagined.

So where do you find yourself in this discussion?  What season does God have you in right now?  What is the look and the taste and the feel of it?  What is he accomplishing in you in the midst of it?  Where in your life are you welcoming a new season?  How is that going?  What scares you?  What excites you?  What does it look like to let go of the old?  What does it look like to embrace and receive the new?  Whatever it may look like, do not fear, just remember that "He has made everything beautiful in its time."

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