“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” These beautiful words from Ecclesiastes resonate through the centuries, a distant echo gaining force and speed as they penetrate our psyche with the power of a bullet train. We move into another new year, yet these words remain as relevant today as for the ancients.
New Year’s Day has recently come and gone, and although not exactly a “season,” it represents a traditional time for reflection and resolutions—as well as an opportunity to review our “purpose under heaven.”
One of my readers refers to my essays as an exercise in French existentialism. I prefer to think of them as an exercise in discernment—a process which may still hold anxiety and angst, but hopefully also clarity and peace. Discernment—what a concept!
During my earlier decades of life, I never even consciously considered it. In retrospect, there are many times when I must have engaged in discernment—that I would go to college, move to the Big Apple upon graduation, and befriend this person rather than that person and so on.
But my decisions were all frighteningly semi-conscious at best. Now, as I move through the early days of a new year, discernment is continually on my mind, rolling around in my thoughts like stones in a rock polisher.
My last yoga class of 2017 began with the Fifth Law of Yoga, Om Ritam Namah: The Law of Intention and Desire. I consider how appropriate this is on the cusp of a new year. Embedded in Om Ritam Namah are questions: Who am I? What do I want? How will I serve? Familiar, age-old questions that don’t get any easier to answer as I age. I smile slightly to myself and wonder, “Where’s the GPS when you really need it?”
I remember vividly when the whole notion of discernment finally hit my conscious mind. I was in yet another career transition and attended a retreat through church entitled, “Thank God It’s Monday.” The focus of the weekend was discerning our gifts and ways they could be used in the world that blended our need to earn money with our strengths and passions, moving us from soul-deadening “jobs” to spirit-fulfilling vocations. The goal was to approach the work week with thanksgiving rather than dread. Just imagine. I finally achieved this goal, but it took decades, and navigation over many bumps.
Now, in retirement, my discernments are less work-related and more life-related—less about earning money—more about fulfilling my purpose. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
I feel certain that my purpose “now” is different from my purpose “then.” And if not discerned now—then when? The answers to these questions have never come easily or quickly. As I reflect back over the years, it is clear that God’s hand has guided me, even if—when—I sometimes resisted.
As I write, my gaze drifts out the window. It is clear that this is the winter season—probably my least favorite time of the year. And yet, winter’s important purpose seems to be to slow us down as we bundle up. It offers a time to linger in front of the fire with a good book, a good friend, or just our own thoughts. A season to ask ourselves questions.
The theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, encourages us to do exactly what we would do if we felt most secure.
Winter encourages us to slow down enough to consider what that might be. Winter is a quiet season enabling our ability to listen to our words. How many times a day do we say “should”? How different would a day—or life—be if we substituted “want”?
Winter is a time to listen to our bodies, to become attuned to the subtle messages conveyed in our posture, our energy, our guts, and those little hairs on the backs of our necks. Bodies rarely lie but too often the pace of our daily lives mutes their wisdom. Winter is a season and time of hibernation. Let us embrace winter’s purpose as much as possible to give ourselves the gifts of stillness, quiet, and rest. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”