This month I had the privilege of reading Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak. A couple of years ago I was encouraged by a friend to read this book, but, as I got a few pages into it, I decided that it was a little dry for my taste. What a difference a couple short years make! At that time I was in a season of uncertainty and waiting. The last thing I wanted to do was read a book about waiting and listening, even though this book’s words would have done wonders for my spirit back then.
One true thing about seasons is that they come and they go. We all experience them as we journey through life. Palmer even closes his book with a chapter on the seasons of life. “Autumn,” says Palmer, “constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life.” Autumn was the season I experienced two years ago, accepting the death of my own plans and desires and waiting for new life to emerge from the rubble that was left. Often when we are in the autumns of life we do our best to pull ourselves out by our own power. This was my temptation. But Palmer notes, “If I try to ‘make’ a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well.” The most vital attitude one can take when faced with an autumn is to be fully present; to take in the beauty found in the decay that is coming. Like the trees that fade from green to reds, yellows and oranges before they can finally wither away, our lives hold treasures and opportunities for growth in even the hardest seasons.
Winter seems to last forever. Palmer explains, “Winter is the gift of utter clarity.” From the deepest moments of despair can come the clearest direction from God. Like a fresh blanket of snow, the barrenness of winter can lead to a fresh start and a new beginning. Do you look at life in this way? When you face a winter on your journey, can you look to the hope that the new season will bring? Palmer encourages us Midwesterners with: “If you live here long, you learn that a daily walk in the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly to the very heart of the season you fear.” Winter is not a time to hide your face and lick your wounds; it is a time to meet the struggles head on, trusting that this too shall pass.
Palmer describes spring: “Before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck . . . but in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.” The same can be said about the spring of life. When life seems messy, hard to navigate and as drab as a rainy day, we can trust that God is at work deep within our souls creating, preparing and nourishing us for rebirth. Humility plays a key role in this season. We have to learn to accept the muddy conditions of our lives because they are what lead to the excessive blooming that will follow. Palmer continues: “The gift of life . . . has been given once again, and nature rather than hoarding it, gives it all away. There is another paradox here . . . if you receive a gift, you keep it alive not by clinging to it, but by passing it along.” May your spring be a season of humility, growth and generosity.
Summer is the final season Palmer covers. He says, “Nature does not always produce abundance . . . there are summers when flood or drought destroy the crops and threaten the lives and livelihood of those who work the fields. But nature normally takes us through a reliable cycle of scarcity and abundance in which times of deprivation foreshadow an eventual return to the bountiful fields.” Isn’t this true of our lives as well? Sometimes we experience that abundance that Jesus talks about in the gospel of John, and other times, summer can seem as dry and barren as a desert. Palmer continues, “I am astonished at how readily I believe something I need is in short supply. [But] In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store. Whether the scarce resource is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around.”
This truth is what the gospel of Christ is all about. We are called to share our abundance in life so that those in season of drought, or in the autumns and winters of life, can still have their needs met and share in the fullness of life.
Manny lives in Union, Iowa, where he serves as the pastor of Bangor Liberty Friends Church. He is a 2009 graduate of Barclay College and currently attends Barclay College’s School of Graduate Studies in pursuit of an MA in Transformational Leadership with an emphasis in Spiritual Formation.