In music, poetry and prose the seasons of the year have provided an expressive and evocative metaphor for describing human life. The movement from spring to winter portrays our journey from birth and infancy to old age and death.
Back in 1963 SCM Press published a slim book by a Swiss doctor whose name was Paul Tournier. It was entitled “The Seasons of Life” and drew upon that flow of nature from Spring to Winter to address the question of the meaning of life. In his introduction he explains how, having received an invitation to lecture on the topic of the seasons of life, he followed his usual practice of discussing such questions with family and friends. The response of one young friend was dramatic.
The young woman to whom Tournier had spoken said: “Do you really intend to accept such a topic? It’s pure romanticism! First of all, the comparison is false: seasons in nature continually renew themselves; there’s always a springtime to follow the winter. But when we speak of the seasons of life in human existence, we are referring to something quite the opposite: a one way street that ends in death”.
“But even more important,” she added, “it just isn’t your conception of men to describe them thus as in a closed and inexorable natural evolution. I know you better than that! Your message is of the miraculous: that man, unlike nature, can have springtimes in autumn”
Tournier, went on to acknowledge the truth of what the young woman had said, citing the case of an 80 year old university professor who came to faith in Christ late in life and felt and sounded as if he had been reborn and youthful once again. However, using the dictum of Thomas Aquinas he noted that “Grace does not suppress nature” and regardless of one’s feelings life proceeds to its inevitable end.
If you and I live anything like a full span of life, then each of us passes through the stages marked by spring, summer, autumn and winter; it cannot be escaped. Life follows the path that God has designed for us to walk, and walk it we must.
In the 1960’s Robert Bolt produced a play called “A Man for all Seasons”. It portrayed the life of Thomas More, Chancellor of England, who would not support Henry VIII’s desire to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon because she was unable to bear him a son, so that he might marry Anne Boleyn. More was no friend of the Protestant Reformation. Nevertheless, a contemporary used the phrase “a man for all seasons” to describe the balance of More’s personality enabling him to be appropriate in every situation: he was truly a man for all seasons.
Since life has its seasons and we are called to pass through each one of them, how can we best be a woman or man for each and all of those seasons, thinking and acting appropriately in each? That each of the seasons your life and mine has its opportunities, its challenges, and its responsibilities is obvious. The question is “how may I best may my particular journey along life’s pathway so that, in some small way, it may be said of that I was a woman or man for all seasons? Let’s think about it.
The major question to be decided is whether there is any meaning in existence or not. Tournier wrote: “What … makes the study of man so prodigiously interesting and difficult is his belonging to two worlds at the same time: the natural world and the supernatural world.” “I emphasize,” he wrote, “at the same time. I must insist that our usual distinction between natural and supernatural is artificial, abstract; it is a purely mental division. Man does not have two lives, natural and supernatural: he has only one, his real life.”
He continued: “This double belonging of man to two worlds, to the world of nature and to the world of spirit, remains an impenetrable mystery to us. We find it difficult to understand how, for men, natural phenomena always have a spiritual meaning, and how the supernatural is ever present in the natural. It appears as if these two worlds where inescapably opposed, as if man on this earth lives … in a perpetual tension between the demands and inexorable laws of his nature and of his spiritual life.”
“Our mind”, says Tournier “is seeking a concept which can reconcile somehow these two aspects of human life.” He wrote: “I doubt if we can find a more satisfactory one than the biblical concept of the divine plan. From a biblical viewpoint, there is a universal plan of God which gives meaning to world history … But what concerns us as practitioners (and he was a medical practitioner concerned with the whole person) is that God’s plan is not just general and universal; it is also individual and detailed. There is a divine plan for every man, in which each event of his life has its place. Nature is included in this plan, as well as every inspiration received from God. God leads us both by nature and by his call; he accomplishes his plan by natural means as well as by those which we call supernatural.”
All that is quite a mouthful. In short, it simply means that by the creative act of God we are part of the natural order but also uniquely endowed by God with a facility to relate to him. Consequently, it is our wisdom, to live appropriately with both God-given relationships. To be a person for all seasons we are to recognize and accept both the obligations and challenges of nature and the requirements of our connection with our Creator. Again, in short, to live out the four seasons of life in a way that is pleasing to God: to be young in relationship to God, to be middle aged in relationship to God, to be old in relationship to God, and to die in relationship to God.
By gladly acknowledging the realities of each season of life we can live appropriately in each by the use of a simple formula that involves four components. First, we need to make a definite, clear, and unreserved, once for all, act of surrender to God. Once made it does not need to be repeated but a renewal made morning by morning can be helpful. Remember, St. Paul wrote: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 (RSV))
To this surrender we need to add the practise Faith. Use these words regularly to focus your mind: 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 (RSV))
Or: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 (RSV))
Along with faith we need to practise Christian Hope day by day. We can repeat to ourselves the words of our great expectation: 51 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (RSV))
Finally we should practise Love. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 (RSV))
And Paul: … be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. ( Ephesians 4:32-5:2 (RSV))
Renewed and practiced day by day these exercises can enable us, in our own sphere of life, to be men and women for each and every session of life. Our passage through life may be rough or smooth, dark and ambiguous or clear and straight forward, but it will be a journey with God.
The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes has its own special brand of wisdom of which two brief quotes touch meaningfully on the theme we have been considering.
Chapter 3 reminds us that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. To this it adds the timely reminder from Chapter 12 that we should remember our “Creator in the days of (our) youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when (we) will say, “(We) have no pleasure in them”.
We only get one ‘shot’ at life. Let’s not waste it. Let’s aim to be a person for all seasons: someone who lives out life’s journey through our spring time, summer, autumn and winter with our Creator as our Shepherd and Friend. And remember also that God, who is the God of new life, can give us an experience of rebirth and spring even in coldest days of our winter.