“Once, the annual cycle of the season must have seemed eternal and indomitable. The year moved from the birdsong and flowers of spring through summer’s work of harvesting and husbandry to autumnal stock-taking and into the icy challenge of winter. Every year was different, but the pattern of the seasons was consistent – a consistency powerfully strengthened by a rich calendar of proverbial lore, annual rituals, and frequent festivities. Although the weather and the seasons actually had an element of unpredictability from year to year, they were nevertheless yoked to a calendar that marked their characteristics and their progress with absolute certainty.
But now everything is changing. The seasons are blurring, they no longer have such apparently distinctive beginnings and ends…Once common cultural references are forgotten, and twenty-first-century British society is becoming ever more remote from the social and economic realities of rural life.” Nick Groom, The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year, p. 25
It has been just over one year since I entered a life of parish ministry.
Lately, after noticing that this year has seemed to pass the fastest of any other year of my life, I have been reflecting on the passage of time and how this has changed for me in the last few years..
Before becoming the Rector of the parish I serve I spent 10 years in the post-secondary world as a student. There’s a great deal I miss about that life but what has been the most jarring is how much I miss the structure of the year and the passage of time as a student.
Perhaps my longing for this way of marking the passage of time exists because in my heart it reminds me of connections to friends and learning, communities in which I lived, and a time that was so quickening and beautiful for me. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I long for it simply because it was a kind of regula and order imposed upon my life and by which I could mark the seasons.
Not only was I subject to the passage of the academic year, but I was being shaped by the rhythm of the liturgical through my involvement in the campus chapel.
There is something comforting about subjecting oneself to an external force like the seasons, there is something deeply comforting and harmonious about their indomitability and power.
A few times over the last year I have visited a friend’s family hobby farm and had a taste of life lived there and it has made me envious. There life is lived in complete subjection to powers beyond our control, like the weather and the seasons. The year is marked out by ritual tasks that must be done. Thanksgiving always brings with it the knowledge that the pigs will need to be slaughtered; December means the time of Christmas tree harvesting has come; and at a certain point in the Spring it is time to turn the garden beds.
There is a great beauty in being governed by those forces and necessities, of the repetition and ritual that comes with the passage of each year.
The church has her own calendar and way of marking the passage of time, but the sad fact is that so much of the church suffers from a tragic amnesia about itself.
Modern lectionaries and church calendars have diminished, and in some cases destroyed, the inherent logic and beauty of the way that the church, for millennia, marked the passage of time.
Take for example the feasts of St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas the Apostle. It would have been very clear to people who lived in closer relation to the natural seasons that there was a reason why we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist at the Summer Solstice and St. Thomas at the Winter Solstice – John announces at the time when our days begin to darken that he, “Must decrease so that He may increase,” until we find ourselves on the darkest day of the year when St. Thomas is turned from the darkness of doubt and we begin our journey back towards light.
With modern calendars having moved the Feast of St. Thomas to July the subtle beauty and distinction is lost.
In my parish we use the modern calendar and lectionary but it means very little to anyone. We no longer have access to the church seasons like the -gesimas that bring so much more meaning to Lent, nor are we privy to the joys of Epiphanytide, or Whitsuntide, nor Rogationtide. Our church year has simply been parcelled out into large chunks of either Ordinary Time or something slightly less ordinary.
In the last year we have recognized church festivals such as Rogationtide, the Ember Days, and Lammas Day, even if only through little ways. We live in a heavily agricultural and rural province where most people are, at most, only one generation removed from farming so these are all parts of the church calendar that people connect with, but there is still so much left to rediscover.
Here in the Rectory we are trying to reclaim some practices and habits that will help us to live more in relation to that indomitable and governing structure of the seasons both natural and liturgic: we recognize and celebrate the daily offices from the old calendar and lectionary, we will be preparing our yard for growing food next Spring, we will be eating more seasonally, I allow myself to be subject to the natural rhythms and seasons of the fish in my fly fishing, and I will be brewing beer through the winter using flavours and ingredients fitting the seasons.
They are small steps, but it is an attempt to reclaim that which has been lost through our distance from rural life, from the ancient rhythms of our church, and from allowing ourselves the felicity of having our lives governed by forces wholly external to us
The Finches – Wendel Berry
The ears stung with cold
sun and frost of dawn
in early April, comes
the song of winter finches,
their crimson bright, then
as they move into
and then against the light.
May the year warm them
soon. May they soon go
north with their singing
and the season follow.
May the bare sticks soon
live, and our minds go free
of the ground
into the shining of trees.