Seasons of the Soul

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rev. Dean Snyder

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

“For everything, there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” This is written by the writer of Ecclesiastes, who is called Qoheleth in Hebrew or, translated into English, the Preacher.

The Preacher says there is a season and a time for everything.

We like to think in absolutes. If something is good, it is always good. If something is bad, it is always bad.

But the Preacher of Ecclesiastes says differently.

There are things that are good in one season and bad in another. There are things that may be appropriate in one time or era but inappropriate during another time.

The Preacher suggests life is best lived in harmony with the seasons and the times. Life is best when it follows the rhythms of the seasons and times … when it is attuned.

Nature has seasons. Seasons are universal in nature. Even the North and South Poles have seasons. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association identifies four seasons at the poles – winter, spring, summer, fall. says there are really only two seasons – cold and really, really cold. But there are seasons even at the North and South Poles.

The tropics have seasons – usually a dry season and a wet or rainy season, but even the tropics have seasons. Haiti, Jean Paul, has two rainy seasons and two dry seasons.

NASA has even identified seasons on other planets in the solar system. Each planet has a winter, spring, summer, fall. The only difference is the length of each season. On earth each season lasts 90 to 93 days. On Jupiter, each season lasts 3 years. On Uranus, each season lasts about 20 years. 20 years of winter, 20 years of spring, 20 years of summer, 20 years of fall.

For most of history the seasons shaped human life. The seasons determined when we went to bed and when we got out of bed. The seasons controlled our activities and our work. The seasons determined when we planted, when we reaped, when we ate our fill and when we rationed our portions, when we worked 80 hours a week and when we worked short days and rested more.

There is a religious group that sets up a stage at the Chinatown Metro mostly on Friday afternoons and they preach to the people going into and coming out of the Metro stops and others of us passing by. Their preaching seems to have become angrier lately. They used to be more light-hearted. They used to kid commuters that they were not supposed to be working long hours like they do in winter.

Winter, they’d said, is a time to work short days and to take long afternoon naps. Spring and fall are the time for long days of hard work. Winter and summer are supposed to be times of rest.

This is why you use so much caffeine and nicotine, they’d say, to keep yourself going long hours in wintertime when you are not supposed to be working this many hours., according to the rhythms of nature.

You are too skinny, they’d say to some of the people walking past. You are supposed to put on some weight in winter and work it off in spring and fall.

They may not be totally wrong.

There are seasons in nature to which human beings have had to attune their lives for thousands of years before there were thermostats and electric lights and transportation systems that supply us with the same foods winter, spring, summer, fall. These things may not have erased the impact of the seasons on our bodies, psyches and souls. The seasons may still impact us more than we realize.

What is good and appropriate for us in winter may not be the same thing that is good and appropriate for us in spring, summer, or fall.

This is worth thinking about in and of itself. Deepak Choprah and the rest of the Oprah crowd are right, I think, when they tell us to listen to our bodies, which are more attuned to nature than our minds.

“At this moment your first and most reliable guide to happiness is your body,” Deepak Chopra says. “When choosing a certain behavior, ask your body, ‘How do you feel about this?’ If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress, watch out. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, proceed.”

The National Eating Disorders Association says the best way to conquer eating dysfunctions is to learn to listen to your body and eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you are full, although this has not worked so well for me personally. My body keeps saying, More potato chips! Winter, spring, summer, fall.

We plant in spring. (I spent part of yesterday filling and seeding the pots we keep in the tree box outside our home.) We hoe, water and nurture in summer. We harvest in fall, and let the soil rest and renew itself in winter. What is good and appropriate to do is shaped by the season we are in.

Of course, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is talking about more than the annual cycle of the seasons of the natural world.

Beth Norcross who teaches green studies at Wesley Seminary believes that we would treat the earth better if we spent more time closer to nature. She is teaching a course on reconnecting with the natural world. It may be true that part of the environmental crisis we face is caused by our alienation for nature.

Living attuned to the natural seasons may be important for our spiritual connection to creation and Creator.


The span of our lives has seasons that may be inappropriate in another season. Behavior that is cute when we are two may not be so cute when we are 12. What is winsome when we are 16 may become tiresome when we are 30. What is good and healthy at 30 may not be such a good thing at 50. Although I am not sure about this yet, what is appropriate at 55 may not be appropriate at 75.

This is not ageism. This is to recognize that life has seasons, times, and stages. We might choose to age according to a different drummer, but we ignore the seasons of life at our own peril.

I doubt that anyone should be a sage and wise man or wise woman at 16. Being bawdy and flippant at 65 isn’t as attractive.

There are seasons in nature. There are seasons in our life spans. There are also season and times in history.

For 20 years I have been fascinated by the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe, who wrote the book Generations in 1991. They believe there are saecula, or seasonal cycles of history. They have applied their theory to Anglo-American history.

They say that a saeculum, one sweep of history, is about 90 years long. A saeculum can be divided into four “turnings” or seasons. Each generation raised during a turning will be shaped by the season into which it was born.

Each saeculum has an awakening and an unraveling and a crisis and a high.

I remember that when I read their book Generations in 1991, they predicted that sometime within a few years after the year 2000, some major event would happen to throw America into a great crisis.

History has seasons. And what may be right and good in one season of history may not be so good in another season.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes says our lives are shaped by the season and time in which we find ourselves dropped into human history.

I often think about my parents and how the dominant historical context for their lives was two world wars. One of my mother’s great fears was that she might lose a child to war. She would never let me near a gun, even though I grew up in a community where –if you didn’t hunt—your masculinity was in question. My older brother reacted by later in his life joining the army.

We have fought wars during my lifetime but I feel as if the dominant historical context for the time in which I have lived is freedom and equality movements … the anti-colonial movement and the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the LGBT movement and the differently-abled movement.

I wonder how the lives of our children and grandchild, nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews will be shaped by the historical season in which they live.

There are seasons of nature. There are seasons of our lifetimes. There are historical seasons.

And there are I am convinced, spiritual seasons. Seasons of our spirit. There are seasons of spiritual growth and seasons of spiritual dormancy. There are seasons of spiritual intimacy and seasons of spiritual distance. There are seasons of spiritual awakening and seasons of spiritual maturing. There are seasons of spiritual crisis and seasons of spiritual steadiness. There are seasons of doing and seasons of waiting. Seasons of prayer and seasons of action. Seasons when believing and trusting are easy and season when they are very hard.

The Christian year tries to capture this. There is Advent, a season of waiting; Christmas, a season of joy; Epiphany, a season of awakening; Lent, a season of self-denial and repentance; Easter a season of new life;  And Pentecost, a season of empowerment and mission.

The Christian year covers a lot of the bases of spiritual seasons. The only problem is that our own spiritual experience does not always match the calendar.

I’ve had years of my life when I lived in the season of Lent all year long. That was no fun.

I had at least one year that was Christmas almost all year long. I’d like more of those.

I’ve had my own Pentecosts.

I suspect that the people who are the most spiritually proficient are the people who develop the ability to discern what spiritual season they are in. I think by listening to our own souls and to God we can learn how to do this.

Deepak Choprah is right about the importance of listening to our bodies. Christianity in its beginnings was not an anti-physical, anti-body religion. Easter is about the resurrection of the body. Paul’s epistles teach our bodies are temples where the Holy Spirit lives.

There was this big debate last year whether Christians should do yoga since yoga is based on another religious system. It might be better to ask whether we can be very good Christians without paying attention to our bodies.

But listening to our souls is also critical. How do you listen to your soul? Where is the space in your life when you are not being distracted by external stimulation so that you can listen to what is going on in the depths of your soul?

Listening to our souls and listening to God are very similar things.

The Preachers says life can not be lived as though every day were just like the day before and the day to come. As though every week and every month and every year were just like the last and just like the next.

We live in seasons. Seasons of nature. Seasons of our lifespan. Seasons of history. Seasons of the soul.

What worked for us in another season may not work for us in the season we are in now. We learn what season we are in by listening. Listening to our bodies. Listening to nature. Listening to our spirits. Listening to our souls. Listening to God.