“To everything there is a season ...” So says the Biblical writer of Ecclesiastes. Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions impart a similar wisdom that speaks to the seasonal nature of life. The world view that gave birth to this insight was tied to Nature.
This idea of the seasons of life was more than just an idea, though. It was an entire world view, born of rural life. It asserted that everything, including life itself, was cyclical.
What’s more, those cycles are something we do well to honor by accepting our place in the flow of things.
We in the “developed world,” for the most part, are stripped of our connection to the land. As such we have lost the sense of the cyclical nature of things We have taken “to everything there is a season” and bastardized it to fit with our linear world view. We proclaim seasons that come and seasons that go, one after the other in an unending march of progress.
The wisdom imparted through centuries and across cultures of a cyclical world no longer applies to most of us. We “first world” folks live as though we have moved beyond the constraints of Nature. We have separated ourselves from our fellow humans (witness our self-reference as “first world” people, relegating others to second and even third worlds). And alongside that we have disconnected ourselves from the very planet that sustains us.
Hot outside? Turn on the air conditioner.
Cold? The furnace.
When it’s dark, turn on the lights.
And why not? If we can be more comfortable or more safe or more productive, what is the harm?
The place where we live no longer defines us as it did for our forebears. Our connection to the land is tenuous at best. In a sense, the whole world is where we live. We eat strawberries in the winter that come from who knows where. We fly to the other side of the state, the country, the world giving little thought to it. The downside to our connections being so broad is that we know no one place well.
And when we know not even one place well, we treat all places lightly, as though none is of deep importance. Our relationship with the Earth, while broad, is shallow. And so we grow orchards and alfalfa in the desert even when there is no rain. We cut down trees and plow under fields to make shopping malls. We have become out of touch with the seasons and what they bring us/ what they require of us.
We have lost our place in Nature – Nature of which we were created as a part. And this gives us the illusion that we are in control in a linear world of our own making. When we think that we are masters of our domain, it affects not only how we treat the planet – how we grow our food, care for the soil, water, and air around us, not to mention the other living creatures with whom we share the planet – it also spills over and devolves into a hubris which informs how we treat one another.
Eastern religions and more indigenous beliefs, draw their adherents more closely and honestly to humanity’s proper place in the universe than much of modern Christianity does. But there is a caveat. Expressions of the Christian faith that follow a liturgical calendar (along with Judaism and Islam) stand apart from the linear thinking that so predominates Western religion. What goes around comes around, again and again. It may seem a small thing when the human religious sensibility finds expression this way. I would contend that it is not. While the majority of our life is undoubtedly spent “in the world” being dragged along on the surface of progress, there is a part of us that knows there is more. Our spiritual selves are given a chance, in fact are drawn, to step aside from the rat race and sink, little by little, cycle by cycle, into a deeper reality.
Along with people of all ilks who watch the same sun rise, who tend our gardens, who mark our days with gratitude for the birth, life, and death of which we are a part, at the heart of our shared journeys what we discover is our unity with all that is, that Life is One.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or email@example.com.