As I am writing, we are on the cusp of the autumnal equinox. On Sept. 22 at 3:21 p.m., the sun will be at the dead center above the equator. Briefly, the hours of daylight and night will be exactly the same, 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. The 23.4 degree tilt of the earth’s axis will cause northern and southern hemispheres to trade places and seasons. These are the primal rhythms of creation, the earth’s spinning dance around our sun. For us, it means that we will soon escape summer’s hot, sweaty grip, and we will be welcomed into the open-handed beauty and comfort of autumn.

I learned about the seasons growing up in Chicago. The melting snow watered spring’s first flowers, the blooming “buttercups,” and the warming air brought back the first stirring of the bees looking to slather themselves in fresh pollen. While the ground was always soggy and the air bit with the sharp teeth of the Windy City, spring was a hopeful time. Summer came creeping in with its longer days and brighter sun. We took family trips to Dunes State Park and swam in Lake Michigan’s 52 degree water. Summer was the time for riding bikes, eating homemade ice cream and watching the Cubs lose. But, it also meant that I had to mow the lawn once a week, pull weeds around our peonies and fight off plagues of mosquitos. Soon enough, autumn would settle around the city. Happily, school started and backyard football games with my friends filled the afternoons until nearly dark. Mother Nature would take up her brushes and paint the birch, poplar and maple trees in our yard with the crisp colors of fall. We jumped in the high piles of fallen leaves and then swept them to the curb for burning (which is still my absolute favorite smell). But, with autumn, came shorter days and longer nights and leaf-high piles of homework. The cool fall wind was sharpening its teeth again for its winter stalking. Winter came in October, and in Chicago, it came fast and hard. While many complained, I thought the snow was a heaven-sent gift. Soon after Halloween, we pulled down our sleds from the attic and began making deep tracks on the snowy hills. My dad would build an ice skating rink in our backyard; a pile of two-by-fours, hundreds of gallons of water and sub-freezing temperatures were the precise formula for months of icy fun. But, shoveling the driveway every other day or so was also the formula for a sore back. Wearing six layers of “snow clothes,” was no fun, especially if you happened to fall down. You were like a turtle on its back. The frigid cold was relentless, reaching down and grabbing the breath right out of you. So, each of Chicago’s four seasons are marked in my memory with various shades of light and dark.

Just as the earth has its celestial turnings, so life has it turnings too, each one bringing new seasons for our lives. Moving through the seasons of life from birth, to childhood, to adulthood, to the “golden years,” is all a natural part of our human experience. Sometimes this orderly progression is interrupted by unexpected seasons of joy that come like an Indian summer day or hit us with sadness like an early freeze. Through the years, I have learned some helpful lessons about living with seasons. First, I am learning to trust them. They each bring and take away what they should. Instead of resisting them, I look for the purpose in each, the hidden treasure in each. Second, I am learning not to wish away one season of life in order to hurry on to the next. Experience all that each season of life has to offer. Each moment of life has its own unique gifts … and also losses. Enjoy the gifts and learn from the losses. Finally, I am also learning not to try to hang on to a season of life that is slipping away. Open your fingers, and let it go. Only when we let go of one season of life do we have hands and hearts free enough to take hold of the new one and its gifts. Like clay on the potter’s wheel, I am learning that life’s turnings have a way of shaping us into something beautiful and strong.

I wish you a happy Equinox … and all the seasons of life.

 

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Dr. Craig McMahan is University minister and an assistant professor of religion at Mercer University.