I live in Canada. If you don’t, forget your stereotypes: sled dogs and igloos, polar bears and ice palaces, Eskimos in fur-lined parkas and seal-skinned mukluks poised with fish spears over ice-holes. Those are rare sightings anywhere in my country, but only myths in the part of Canada I’m from. I’m from Canada’s West Coast. Here, even snow in winter is scarce. The grass grows thick and green year-round, and flowers start shooting up in early February, or sooner. I write this in January, and already the branches on my willow tree are knuckled with buds, fuzzy and grey, and if the warmth keeps up I expect crocuses by month’s end.
I live without four distinct seasons. Winter here is nondescript, and wet. Fall is bland: the few deciduous trees—this is a land of firs and cedars—turn tobacco brown or suet yellow, and blow off in the first strong wind of late October. The only standout seasons are spring and summer—spring a cavalcade of blossoms, summer a tangle of tropical lushness, though without the swelter.
Which is all to say, I did not come to write the book Spiritual Rhythm naturally.
That book is about four distinct seasons—not in the natural world, but within us. It explores the cycles in our hearts that, like the axial turnings of earth, mark out seasonal rhythms in our lives: flourishing and fruitful, stark and dismal, cool and windy, or everything coming up new. The seasons I’m describing are not the seasons of aging—where youth is spring, early adulthood summer, middle age fall, and old age winter. Interesting as that is, it’s not what I’ve set my hand to here.
This is: our souls, our hearts, have seasons, too. A soul in youth can turn grim and arctic, or a heart in dotage can grow breezy and fragrant. The seasons of the heart are no respecter of age, and seldom of person. I’ve met children bleak and dour, octogenarians playful and whimsical, middle-aged women enthused about everything, fifty-year old men bitter about everything. Sometimes this is just the way it is, with no rhyme or reason, nothing to predict or prevent or produce one season or another.
But sometimes we do have a say or a hand in it. And always, we can steward the season we find ourselves in. Just as farmers plow in one season, plant in another, irrigate in another, harvest in another, and let the fields lie fallow in yet another, so there are activities, and inactivities that fit our heart’s seasons.
We ignore this to our own peril.
I discovered theses seasons of the heart late, close to 50, when I found myself in winter. A friend and colleague, whose presence I depended on more than I knew until it was gone, got sick, and then very sick, and then died. Her name was Carol, and just writing her name opens a door that a cold wind slips through. She was blond, and big, and funny, and could pray heaven close. She forgot details and muddled dates, but remembered people, the most quirky and intimate things about them, and she could see deep into them in the way prophets and sages and sometimes grandmothers can.
She had a tumor in her skull, a thing that showed up first as a chronic headache. A mass big as a hardball, nestled just above and right behind her right ear, twined into her brain. Doctors plucked it out, but it grew again, and spread. They went in again, but its roots ran thick and tangled, and all they could do was pare back its wildness a little. We prayed, desperate, confident, declarative, beseeching. We were gallant as knights then frightened as children. We rode the news, up, down, sideways. We grew, I suppose, but often we diminished, too.
She died. I held myself together, and a few others besides. Carol was not just our friend: she was my co-pastor, and so our whole church was in crisis. I led well, I think, during her dying and her death. I was brave. I spoke words of comfort and hope, publicly and privately. At her funeral I preached a message to stir and bolster faith.
And then I woke one morning barren of fruit, bereft of joy, short of daylight. I could not shake it off. I could not make a thing grow. I saw a counsellor. I had people pray for me. I read books. I begged God. I faked it.
Nothing ended it.
And then God gave me insight: this was winter. It would end, in time, but not by my own doing. My responsibility was simply to know the season, and match my actions and inactions to it. It was to learn the slow hard discipline of waiting. It was my season to believe in spite of—to believe in the absence of evidence or emotion, when there’s nothing, no bud, no color, no light, no birdsong, to validate belief.
It was my time to walk without sight.
—Excerpt from Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.