I grew up in farm country in southern Ontario. My parents were not farmers by profession but we lived on a small lot surrounded by farms. An apple orchard, fields of flowers, corn, and pumpkins were all grown within sight of our property. Right beside us were The Robinsons, who made a living selling radishes and rhubarb.
I observed the seasonal nature of farming from my neighbours. As soon as the snow melted and the fields warmed up, they would plant seeds. Months of care went into giving these seeds the best opportunities to grow. In the summer months, they worked hard to irrigate these crops. When the plants reached maturity, the season at the markets began. Selling produce at the busy summer markets was the only time the Robinsons made money. When I was old enough, they hired me to help them sell. It was then that I got a closer glimpse into their lives. Summer days were long while they cared for the crops, harvested the mature plants, and sold them at market. This productive season took its toll. When the weather turned cold, the market season finished and the Robinson family farm would be cleaned up and readied for winter. While snow covered their fields, they found rest at a modest winter home in Florida.
While growing up beside the Robinsons, I noticed how seasonally directed farmers’ lives are. Now later in my life, I am learning that God works like a farmer in the seasonal nature of our lives. Like a rhubarb plant, we go through winters where only our root grows underneath the snow and cold. When spring comes, we grow quickly with many leaves. In early summer, there is much to be celebrated for all that spring growth. But the late summer and early autumn heat show the toll that growth has taken. Once again, we turn our attention to our roots, which are the only part that grow in winter.
The many stories in the Bible witness to the seasonal nature of our lives. Ezra is a story of spring, as work on the new temple begins. Pentecost is a story of summer, as the church flourishes numerically and celebrates the presence of the Spirit in its community. Ecclesiastes is a story of autumn reflections. Job is a story of winter loss, questioning, dormancy, and waiting. As you think of the story of your own life, you may be able to discern a particular season that could describe particular circumstances. However, I’ve rarely met people who have learned to live seasonally with God. Far more often, I notice people prefer a season and try to stay within it. Some prefer the productivity of spring and keep busy. Others try to stay in the celebration that comes with summer. While it may be less common to prefer winter, the reflective nature of autumn is preferred by many Christians I have known. I’m not describing personalities, which are part of our unique identity, but the circumstances of our lives. If circumstances change, people would rather apologize for the change and attempt to get things back to how they were, rather than learn how God is relating in this new season.
The Psalms, a collection of 150 Hebrew poems in the Bible, are an assortment of human experiences and the corresponding divine activity. They show us examples of various seasons of life and how God accordingly relates to people. Psalm 92 is an example from spring. “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon, planted in the house of the LORD they will flourish in the courts of our God.” I am reminded of a springtime in my life when my wife and I had two young girls at home who were growing and correspondingly, keeping Karis and I growing. Exciting and yet tiring times.
Psalm 98 is an example from summer. “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” These are wonderful times. Like times in the life of the church where we celebrate all that God has done in our lives. Our annual celebration comes to mind. Psalm 77 shows evidence of autumn reflection. “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” In autumn, we reflect on past events, now seeing them from a different perspective. Both disillusionment and thanksgiving are examples that can be experienced in autumn.
Psalm 130 is a winter psalm. “Out of the depths I cry to you LORD; Lord hear my voice.” These are times when there are few, if any, signs of outward growth. These are broad strokes but I hope they help to reveal the seasonality of life. I would like you to consider whether God forms hearts in every season. Wait to respond until after serious consideration. That word ‘every’ has broad implications for your own life. Would you go so far as to say that every experience you have is an opportunity for God to form your heart?
This question, “does God form hearts in every season?” is the question Psalm One asks before we enter the rest of the collection. It says that a “blessed” or “happy” person is “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (NIV 2011). Literally, it says the tree is planted by “channels of water,” which implies irrigation. The roots of the tree are always being watered but the tree is subject to the seasons. The type of tree in mind here is likely coniferous, meaning it doesn’t lose its leaves. Coniferous trees lose their leaves only after their roots have died. If the same metaphor is extended to a deciduous tree, or to my example of a rhubarb plant, the leaves do die. The roots, however, if properly cared for, are always being nourished.
This is the seasonal nature of our lives. There is opportunity for growth in every season but that growth looks quite different as the seasons change. We can resist this change but will miss out relating with God in these new seasons of our life. How God forms us in the seasons of life is our direction for 2015. We have just engaged with how God works from the inside out. At the end of that I ask us, what if we spent a whole year cultivating the Spirit’s work in our hearts? Here are some of the ways we will be directed in this pursuit – 52 liturgies that explore how God forms hearts in each season. We will follow the seasons of the agricultural calendar. We will start in winter and transition to spring on the first Sunday in April (Easter Sunday). Summer will be introduced in mid-June and autumn will begin in September.
In each season, we will listen to the voices in scripture. Psalms will direct us. This includes the 150 psalms but it will not be limited to these. First, because there are many psalms in the First Testament beyond these that will be valuable to us. Secondly, we will look to the New Testament, which makes use of The Psalms more than any other First Testament book. Jesus, in particular, engages with the Psalms and does some remarkable things with them, including rewriting them at times. We will listen to the voices from the historical church. The two-thousand-year history of Christians and churches has generated many ways of reading these psalms. We will learn from those before us who were formed through various seasons of life and history.
We will listen to our voices. We have all learned how to relate with God in certain seasons of life. We all have something to learn from others and something to contribute to others. We will listen to each other. The themes of our liturgies will not always match the particular season of life you are experiencing but it will resonate with someone and every season eventually visits us all.
We will practice cultivation activities. Much like the fall series, we will engage in activities that facilitate relating with God. Though we will slow down at times, we will learn week after week how to get the most out of certain activities.
We will explore how worship looks in each season. In winter, our worship times will feel like winter. In aesthetics and content, we will aim to embody these seasons. We will worship in familiar ways and in unfamiliar ways that will stretch us to learn how to ‘be with God’ in every season.
Through all these things and others, we will commune with God and may learn to discern the Spirit’s unique activity in our life. I anticipate this will be hard. Partly because I learned from my farming neighbours that there are times when farming is a wonderful life and times when it is most difficult. And mainly I believe we will find this difficult because there are elements of each season that we keep from God. I know there shouldn’t be, but there are. We have struggles that we don’t speak with God about, like our past hurts or maybe a temper or sexual desire that bothers us. Less taboo, we have entertainment fascinations that rarely come up in our conversations with God. How often to you speak with God about your sports teams or reality television shows? There are times we are drained, disappointed, or sad and will withdraw from God. There are productive seasons where we may minimize God because he might seem to ‘slow us down.’ Or times of celebration when it doesn't make sense to us to “be still and know” but we haven’t yet learned another way to relate with God.
The benefits, as I see the possibilities now, are a life lived with God in every season. Though I think the outcomes of this journey are hard to predict, they are more wonderful when they are genuinely experienced in each of our lives. For those who will come along this next year, I imagine that we may learn together to ‘be with God’ in every situation. I invite us to discover this in 2015.
Paul Truman (edited by Melissa Chaun)
January 5, 2015