Seasons and Self…

Posted: June 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

Seasons and Self…

It is not easy to say much good of winter. Except as something hard that exaggerates the Spring reprieve. It just is. Take trees for instance. If those trees are the imported kind, their coloured clown suits of leaves will have already turned winter brown or yellow, and as if to sacrifice their life, fallen to the ground to become spring fertilizer. Take snow for instance. We don’t get a lot of it in New Zealand and it is mainly concentrated in the higher regions. Indeed, it may even have been said by farmers that snow is ‘the poor man’s fertilizer’. It was next year’s water. It was next year’s crop.

The truth is that seasons are as much a cultural phenomenon as food, music, religion and dance. In reality, the delineation of the year into four seasons—Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter— is as arbitrary as starting them on the first of a certain month. 

Even with the relatively small size of New Zealand there is not one single seasonal calendar for the entire country. Temperatures do fluctuate on a national basis We have the winterless North and the Cold South, and the windy middle for instance.

 
Over all, summer is the warmest season of the year, falling between spring and autumn.
Warm weather, days at the beach, and the start of an extended holiday period herald summer’s ‘southern’ arrival. According to ‘astronomical summer’ the season occurs on or around December 22 in the Southern Hemisphere, when the South Pole is tilted toward the sun, and when night and day are approximately the same length. But there is another definition for summer. A meteorological season is defined as the 12 months of the year being divided up into four seasons with three months each. June, July and August are considered summer, north of the equator, while December, January and February are summer to the south. Which of course means the latter makes for a different Christmas!

Autumn has gone right now and winter is here… People tend always to read, think, and understand from their particular place on the planet. But it goes further. The natural seasons not only have symbolic value they also affect us physiologically. Seasonal changes in temperature, sunlight, precipitation, barometric pressure, and lunar cycles all have demonstrable effects on our moods and physical functioning.

Like Earth, we too have our seasons marked by change and often best reflected upon by the poets and liturgists in our midst. Because human beings are ‘storytellers and scenario spinners’.

“Now I am not so very young,
        and time runs faster that, it did.
        I am much more mortal than I was at ten…

“It takes a little while to know how much of life is death
        and not to dread it so.
        To sense the equilibrium of the earth,
        To be at home in time, and take the limits
        of both life and love…” (Coots 1971:61, 62)

As one grows older it is often referred to as entering the ‘autumn years’. The younger version of me always dreaded the idea of growing older. But now that I have not only knocked on autumn’s door, but opened the door and taken a few steps inside, I admit to being some-what pleased to have made it this far!

“No matter how old one is,” writes Huffington Post blogger, Judith Rich, “we’re always standing at the edge of the unknown. There is no certainty, not even about taking the next breath. But growing older affords one a certain perspective on life, not available from the earlier parts of the journey. Gratitude comes forward, front and center, as the prevailing consciousness. What could be better than that?” (Rich 2011) And then comes the end of life as we know it… Death. Our death. Few people think about death. Their own death, that is. It has been traditionally considered a taboo subject. When it is talked about, most of the time the conversation is shaped around death as an abstract principle – a dispassionate facet of Life. But when death becomes personal through someone we have known, respected, and loved, it comes in a variety of guises and triggers varying emotions. As a progressive and a religious naturalist Rex Hunt suggests that his understanding of the universe is that, the natural world is all there is. Death is part of the life process. There is for him no heaven and no afterlife. This life is all there is. Traditional and fundamentalist Christians will blame all this on Charles Darwin, but there is no scientific evidence of anything supernatural. Neither is there any credible evidence that humankind is a unique creation by a deity, nor any basis for the existence of a ‘soul’. I happen to be a little less certain about when life begins and ends but I do go along with the idea that this human life experience is all we have now. As with Rex, I agree that it matters far more to come to terms with our end than to be preoccupied with ‘metaphysical speculation’ about what might lie beyond this life. “Death is present and palpable, a matter of evidence. Not only are there no good grounds for anticipating immortality, but also doing so distracts us from the life that we do have.” (Aronson 2008:151)

We all die. And all of us dies. Seasons of the self.

Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, has a couple of interesting, if detailed,
comments about our ‘seasons’, and ‘self’. He writes: “We contain in us—in all of ourselves after many cosmic, biological, and cultural transformations—the radiation that was present at the origin of the universe.” He then proceeds to ask the question: ‘How old are we?’ His response:
“phenomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years.” (Peters 1992:412) To the additional question: ‘How long will we continue?’ Peters adds: “phenomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5 billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never… It all depends on how we think of ourselves.” (Peters 1992:412)

Ian Harris in his new book ‘Hand in Hand’ reminds us that ‘agnosticism’ and for those who can avoid the hard questions can become a complacent perch for not asking the questions about the meaning of our existence. Do our lives have purpose beyond mere survival? Even the so-called non theist, non-religious face these questions.

Peters, answers are a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things. And he reminds us that the seasons of nature is in us as much as we are nature. “We are webs of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and cosmos… As webs of reality each of us is a manifestation of a larger part of the universe as a whole…” (Peters 1992:412)

When I think of my own life, like Rex I too want to live my own seasons’—I know I want to exist as long as I can in a healthy way in my present state, fulfilling the possibilities of my own existence, and contributing positively to my culture, to my family and grandchildren, to the environment. And at centre stage is a sense of wonder and acts of celebration. The world—a circus of forms—of leaves and mulch and earth and rocks and butterflies, and human fingers with or without arthritis. The celebration of life—the whole of life is the living of the questions. And to be dumbstruck by the gentle burst of colour and the struggle of little lambs in early spring keeps the questions before us! But then… as Marx has said – Groucho Marx that is, or as Rex’s seven, year old grandson would prefer putting it, Captain Underpants: ‘Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.’ In other words it is hard to say good things about winter!

Harris also reminds us that a certain John took a Jewish understanding of the life and death, teachings and example of Jesus, and transposed it into a Greek thought-world for people whose culture was Greek, much as a composer might write a variation on a musical theme to give it a fresh perspective and new depth. This has to challenge us in terms of our seasonal constructs and take seriously the need fir dynamic fluidity in thinking and to keep living the questions.

Amen.

Harris Ian, Hand to Hand Cuba Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

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