We have lived each day of our lives in some season or other, and we always will. True, at points of extremity on our globe, equator or pole, the fluctuations are minimised; but even there, the seasons matter, and greatly.
Wherever we live, we can, essentially, do no more about the seasons than we can about day and night, for all our bufferings and elaborate adjustments. What we can do is accommodate ourselves to them, going with their promises and not being daunted by their demands.
And so it goes with the life of our spirits, our hearts. There is no aseasonal existence for them either. Under a wide array of influences, only a few of which any of us can identify with accuracy, we find ourselves in conditions which correspond to the shifts of the natural world. If we are not to settle for being merely embattled, or merely cynical, we have to learn, and relearn, to identify providential aspects in what we are undergoing.
We can be confused in this venture by the fact that there is often little apparent synchronisation between my season and yours. You are riding high, to all outward seeming, whereas I am at best slogging along in the mud: or you, after a bad run, are coming good, while I am tilting downwards, and can’t find the brake.
It sounds, in fact, rather like many episodes in the gospels, when our Lord’s reading and experience of a given situation is notably different from that of his followers. Not everything has changed since those first months and years.
When it is autumn where I live, near Melbourne, people often speak well of it, preferring it in fact to any other season. The days can be both crisp and bright, the fallen leaves are not yet so much soggy mulch, and the memory of summer is still there, warming and gentled, both.
But we all know where autumn is headed: and we know that all that leaf-shedding is part of nature’s strategy for the very survival of the trees. Autumn is what might be called the season of mixed blessings.
In the same way, we may hope to turn to the Lord of Autumn as the Lord of Mixed Blessings. Something, in many of us, hankers to have things straightened out, to have the contrasting elements of life put into distinguishable and unconfused piles. And this wish, or ideal, or whatever it is, has often been intensified by the voice of Christian teachers, local or remote, who call upon us not to make compromises, not to cut deals with tempters or cajolers, whoever they may be. If we are to live aptly as Christians, we may feel, surely the Lord ought keep things clear for us.
But while sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. ‘Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief’ might have been the prayer not only of the distressed parent, and not only of a Thomas awash in his doubts, but of any Christian ancient or modern, man woman or child.
Our Lord’s own, ‘If it be possible, let this cup not come to me: still, if you want it, I will take it’ is the prayer of someone who is himself under the providence of a shadowed Father. The preacher who had spoken of weeds among the wheat, of edible and inedible fish, came many times into situations in which half-formed hearts were half-offered to him, and half withheld.
We are told that our Lord ‘learned obedience in suffering’, and one of the sufferings was the requirement that he live in autumns of the spirit. In the couple of thousand years during which known or anonymous artists have been representing him and his doings, they have very frequently shown him as lodged amidst intricacies, as partly displayed and partly undisplayable.
This is quite the opposite of being in some situation of moral shiftiness, in which there is always room to back off, or to move sideways: there was no backing off the cross, and the only ones at his side were themselves men brought to book. But it is fair to say that one condition of our Lord’s being schooled to be our liberator was that he keep his spiritual nerve in the mingled circumstances of life, whether life outside or life inside.
‘The servant is not greater than the master’, and we too may expect that a good deal of our Christian living will be autumnal living. The chrisitan calendar's longest stretch of its liturgical year is not the Lent of penitence, nor the Easter of exuberance, but the ‘Ordinary Time’ in which we will or will not become saints.
We may hope to have all sorts of comrades on this way:
each of them can be backed by the Lord of Autumn. +Ab