A Meditation on Time

I’m not sure what part of the world you’re reading this from, but here in Eastern Oklahoma, we’ve had a very cold and record-setting week. Some of the coldest air in recent years has swooped down from the north and paid us a visit, causing us (and many others in this part of the US) to buckle down for temperatures that we don’t often see.

It’s not that we don’t get cold weather in Oklahoma, but it is the extended amount of time that we have been below freezing that is unique for this weather event. Arctic blasts usually only last a day or two before they move on out. But this one has decided to stick around for a while. The Oklahoma Mesonet reports that the longest stretch of consecutive hours below freezing is 282 hrs (11 days, 13hrs). If things continue to go as expected, it looks like we’ll get close to setting a new record with this event.

All that to say, I’ve been very focused on keeping wood in the fireplace, fortifying the barn for our goats, taking warm water out to the goats and chickens throughout the day, and doing everything I can to keep water lines from freezing - all while trying to keep the kids from going crazy while being cooped up.

But…!

Through all of that, one of the things I have come to appreciate about Oklahoma is that we usually get a good taste of all four seasons. The springs are generally rainy and mild, the summers are hot and humid, the falls are cool and damp, and the winters are usually cold enough for a small snow or two. And the seasons are, for the most part, not extended - they stay around for their allotted time and then move on to allow the next one to slowly take center stage.

This cycle of seasons has a specific rhythm and timing. You get to see the explosion of new life in the spring, the vigorous growth in the summer, the slow decline in the fall, and the quiet death of most things in the winter. Mix this predictable cadence with a few of the unknowns that get thrown our way (tornadoes, arctic blasts, etc.), and what you have is an annual, reoccurring meditation on life - expected patterns that guide your general direction, sprinkled with unexpected moments along the way.

And not only that, it’s a reoccurring phenomenon - every trip around the sun gives us the opportunity to revisit this metaphorical object lesson all over again.

It’s as if the universe knew we needed practice.

There are, of course, smaller cycles that happen all the time, the best example of which is in our sprititual life. As the old saying goes: for there to be life, there must be death.

Our entire spiritual journey is spent in this wheel of birth –> growth –> decay –>death. And our job, as people who have chosen to engage life within a religious context is to navigate and nurture these seasons within their appropriate timing - to cultivate this continual cycle of becoming.

Another interesting part about this process is that none of it happens instantly. The seasons each take about three months to express themselves and then slowly transition to the next. In a world where we are becoming conditioned to instant answers, quick turns of the page, and immediate gratification, the one thing that we cannot force more efficiency or speed out of is the cycle of the seasons.

We are forced to wait…no matter what Mother Nature brings our way.

And I believe that’s a good thing.

Most people, when thinking about rhythm and seasons immediately conjure up Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

The first refrain in this set of verses immediately speaks to the idea that all life has an expiration date.

So, why do I bring all this up?

For Christians, this week marks the beginning of Lent. One of the topics that we meditate on during these days leading up to Easter is the idea of mortality - the state of being subject to death. The season is kicked off with Ash Wednesday, where ashes are ceremonially placed in the form of a cross on a parishiner’s forehead by a pastor or priest while the clergyman utters something similar to: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

The beginning of Lent ushers in a period of time during which we are invited to reflect upon our own cycle of seasons. We are born, we grow and progress, then we begin to slow down until we finally pass away in the winter of our lives. (Birth –> growth –> decay –>death) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lent begins deep in the heart of the winter season when things are the least active (i.e. “dead”).

Contemplating mortality, for me, isn’t necessarily about trying to discern or focus on what happens after I die. Rather, mortality, in its most immediate sense, causes me to think about what happens here and now. As I have often heard, it’s not so much about seeking life after death but rather seeking life before death. As Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

It’s about understanding that while I am here on this planet, for however long it will be, that I will continually look for things in my life that need to die so that new things can spring forth, grow vigorously, and produce fruit. It’s analyzing what and when things need to be pruned, and when new seeds should be planted. When things need to be protected, nurtured, and eventually harvested. (Birth –> growth –> decay –>death)

This careful observation and cultivation is so that we may live the fullest life here and now.

Seasons are all around us and take many different shapes. Sometimes it’s our moods, sometimes it’s our work, sometimes it’s our health circumstances, sometimes it’s our relationships. Just about every aspect of our life has some sort of ebb and flow to it, rarely is any situation static. Rather, life is a dynamic process - it is always changing and shifting to the next thing.

But while we live in a world that is continually pushing for cycles to be better, faster, stronger, we should take the opportunity to reflect on things that take a little more patience. My hunch is that the pieces of our lives that produce the greatest and longest-lasting transformations are ones that are forged in the slower transitions. By being forced to slow down, sit with our current situation and give the season we are in its proper amount of time, the lessons of the present have their chance to seep a little deeper into our soul.

I know this - I am going to appreciate the first day that temperatures are above 60 degrees a lot more. Had I not had to feed our animals in negative temperatures, continually check on them throughout the day, shovel snow, break ice in the water tubs, modify the barn to help keep them warm, and everything else that has come with this unprecedented weather event, I might have let the next really nice day just fly right on by.

But, now I have a chance to celebrate and enjoy it a little more - all because of the cycle of seasons that I have no control over. And for someone who generally likes to be in control of things, I think that’s progress.

I’ll leave you with a video. The Earth really is an amazing place, but the universe is a whole new level of amazing. While I sit here and pontificate on the cycle of seasons and how “long” they are, when you zoom out to a universal scale you gain a new perspective on time. I hope you enjoy:

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