Tuesday, February 28, 2012

everything beautiful in its time

“beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” 
Annie Dillard

It is February 2012, the near end of a mild winter of mostly 50-60 degree weather punctuated by an occasionally frigid day, some rain and gusty winds. All winter people have exclaimed delightedly that the weather has been gorgeous, even thanking God at times.

It makes me wonder what’s being taught in science classes that there’s wholesale celebration of 50 degree weather in January. It makes me wonder at the depth of our addiction to comfort and convenience; after all winter is sometimes frigid and a hassle to get around in. It makes me wonder at the alarming depth of our detachment from natural cycles.

I decided to google winter to find out why it happens, wondering if it serves a greater purpose than to facilitate photo ops and sledding. 

It does. 

Many invasive and poisonous species of plants die back in winter, keeping their growth in check. Warmer weather and higher levels of CO2 make plants grow, mature faster and obviously earlier, producing more potent allergens. Because trees need a dormant phase in their life-cycles, the abundance and health of Vermont’s Sugar Maples are declining due to milder winters, impacting that region’s economy (but spurring Vermont’s Governor to respond aggressively to climate change). 

Seasonal bird migrations are out of whack. Birds aren’t finding what they normally feed on along migration routes and if they reach their breeding grounds, are breeding earlier. But because of the warmer weather, vegetation has bloomed and insects (whose populations are also kept in check by winter dormancy) have hatched earlier than the avian offspring that feed on them. 

Most hardiness zones, used by farmers, gardeners and nurseries to select what and when to plant appropriate for one’s region, have shifted 5 degrees since last published in 1990. In ecological terms, that’s a dramatic shift in a short time. Many previously synchronized life-cycle events have become disrupted.

But because we operate as though separate from these natural rhythms, seasons seem relatively meaningless to us. We don’t adhere to ecological cycles in what we eat, how we work, play, rest or even dress.

It is with this in mind I think of Ecclesiastes 3. 'There is a season for everything’ is often co-opted for the stages of one’s personal life, relegated to mere metaphor. Maybe the metaphor would resonate more viscerally if we actually experienced seasons as expanses of time and place we physically live in rather than something else to consume or avoid based on our predilections. Make no mistake: trying to adhere to biological rhythms would be frickin’ hard, close to impossible for 21st century people. Yet we humans strive to construct our own rhythms to encompass work, rest, play or restraint when all along natural rhythms already exist for us to live within. 

Take Lent, a time when many Christians decide to give up something to be reminded of what Jesus gave up. Maybe during Lent, for example, Midwesterners could forgo out of season fruits and veggies. Many would have to learn what actually is seasonal or what even grows where. It would be a way of engaging their Lenten discipline naturally as well as engaging Ecclesiastes’ concept of seasons concretely. Self restraint within the context of seasonal restraint could create a more communal, organic experience of Lent.

Imagine if whole churches did this. Imagine the repercussions. It may even provoke conversations about idolatry, carbon footprints, privilege, entitlement, addiction to instant gratification, genetic engineering, pesticides, slave labor, deforestation, monoculture farming, bee colony collapse, and other fallout of non-seasonal living.

Like climate change.

“Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath[c]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Ecclesiastes 3:18.