The shortening days alert us that the winter solstice is not far away.
It’s a time of dramatic change. The days reverse their decline and begin again to expand. It will be the beginning of winter, when, even as the days grow longer, they grow colder.
People in ancient traditions found in the solstice an identification with the processes of nature.
People in the Christian tradition find it pointing to an event when “in the fullness of time” God’s wish for humankind burst onto the human scene, their long yearning for light amid darkness finally being answered.
The season of Advent will begin soon, urging reflection and renewal as we journey toward the season of Christmas; it’s a time of longing that gives way to incarnation.
Life is composed of seasons, isn’t it? Seasons belong to the order of life, “summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,” as the hymn writer puts it.
There’s a dependability, an orderliness, about seasons that point, for some, to the structure of life itself. “For everything there is a season,” the Hebrew Scriptures assert.
For birth and death, planting and plucking, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing – on and on it goes – recycling, “as the swift seasons roll,” to quote Oliver Wendell Homes.
But there’s another way to describe life: Rather than being “circular,” life can be “linear.” It starts somewhere and goes somewhere. It involves a journey.
There’s a journey, an odyssey. Life has an end, a goal, a consummation, a denouement.
John Bunyan wrote about the pilgrim’s “progress.” There’s a “once” and a “now” about it. “Once I was blind, but now I can see.” Once there was a garden and now a celestial city.
How can we understand the conflict between these two perspectives? Which is closer to the truth, “seasons” or “journey”?
This conundrum reminds us of the challenge physicists faced in trying to describe light: Is it composed of waves on a spectrum or of particles called photons? Quantum theory, which I confess not fully to understand, holds both are true.
In like manner, might life consist of both season and journey?
Perhaps a full life requires both. Perhaps it needs to be both “purpose-driven,” moving onward, and also impacted by a reassuring presence of things that are familiar, recurring, dependable.
Ours is a turning world, where day inevitably follows night, where seed time issues in harvest, and winter gives way to resurrection. This is our context.
If our life were only journey, our eyes only on the prize, wouldn’t we encounter tedium, exhaustion, blandness? Indeed, tastelessness, like salt that has lost its savor? Doesn’t life, don’t we, require seasoning?
I find it relevant that “seasoning” comes from the Old French word for the “seasons.” They’re fundamentally connected. Seasoning, as any cook knows, is more than stimulating; it’s transformative.
Let us welcome the winter solstice with its gift of dependability and continuity and the remembrance of seasons past. At the same time, let us celebrate the invasion in our life – once and for all – of that which is new and enlivening and redeeming!
Retired pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Edmondson previously served the First Baptist Church of Berkeley, California. He is an alumnus of Berkeley School of Theology and Regents Park College, Oxford University. Edmondson was a founding member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and in retirement taught in the College of Theology at Central Philippine University. He lives in Oakland, California.