The yoga sutras tell us that the fear of death is a spontaneous feeling, deeply rooted in us all, no matter how learned we may be. The author of Ecclesiastes wrestles with the question of how it can be that the wise die just like the fools. Death is inescapable. So it makes sense that so much thought has been devoted to what lies beyond the moment of our death. But for whatever reason—I have just never been drawn to this question. I have always focused my spiritual quest on the moments before death. On life. Maybe I’m just a product of my time. For as Diana Butler Bass wrote: “This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.” This is the last line of the quote I read to you last week that sounds like a credo to me: “God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around the globe.”
I am an embodied creature living in a material reality. I am effected by the weather and injury. I am surrounded by trees and birds, buildings and people. I deal with the stress of money and difficult relationships. I experience joy and grief. Every morning I wake up and start my day. And over the course of the hours spread out before me I make hundreds of decisions. I experience the reality of Being. Of existence. I go to sleep. I dream. And then I wake up to another day. You’ve heard me say so many times that life is the journey between birth and death. But it’s also the journey between sleeping and waking—of night and day. The journey between work and rest—of weeks and months. The journey between planting and harvest—of seasons and years. If we’re going to explore the question of “How do I live knowing that I will die?” we have to explore the cycles we move through in this life.
So the question I ask you now is: “How do you keep time?”
There are 2 creation stories in the beginning of Genesis. The first one describes creation as God working over the course of a week. Although they practice it differently, both Jews and Christians observe a Sabbath because according to the writer of Genesis, God rested on the 7th day. Genesis 2.3 reads: “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.”
The sabbath is a way of consecrating time—and in case you’re unfamiliar with the word, consecrating simply means “we’ve decided to make this thing sacred.” I can’t speak for individuals, but when I look at the culture I live in—I don’t feel a sense of sacredness in relationship to time.
Time is marked. People are excited for the weekends because for many it means not going to work. And there’s summer vacations. And, of course, the season of the holidays, which we may get excited about, but often in this country it just ends up being about stress and consumerism.
Do weekends and vacations and stressful holidays constitute sacred time? Maybe…
Time is a fascinating subject. Wherever you are right now, take a moment to notice what time it is. How did you figure it out? Did you look at your phone or your watch? Many of us understand time as a thing that just exists and always has. But the concept of Universal Time accepted by the world has only been in existence for 134 years. The time your watch tells you it is, was decided at a conference in 1884. For most of human history, people paid attention to the sun. The cycle of night and day and seasons set the rhythms of life. But we, with our electricity, food transportation systems, and internet are no longer dependent on the sun. Of course, the last 6 words I just said are ridiculous! We are deeply dependent on the sun. What I should have said is that we, with our electricity, food transportation systems, and internet have forgotten our dependence on the sun.
Let me be clear, I’m grateful for all this technology. I’m able to sit in a warm building and write on a computer and send what I write out to you through the internet. I’m far from a luddite. But I would like to invite you—and me— back into relationship with the sun. And the moon. And the seasons. Back into relationship with dirt, sky, roots. Back into relationship with the space, air, fire, water, and earth that make up our bodies and our world.
I’m not saying I want to go backwards in time. I just don’t think that our 21st century lives have to mean that we’re disconnected from the seasons. Now, I know, many of you are saying to me right now: “I’m not disconnected from the seasons… When we lose daylight I experience lethargy and sadness.” And I know others who love the winter! So, we notice the seasons and our daily lives are impacted by them. But I would like to go one step further. I’m asking you to join me in consecrating the seasons—to choose to make them sacred.
Every year the seasons remind us of the journey we’re making from birth to death… And, like the hero’s of our scriptures, the seasons give us hope that we can return from death back to life. The spring equinox lines up with the celebration of Easter, which tells the story of Jesus rising from the dead. And every year, with the arrival of tiny green shoots, we are told that spring follows winter. We are told that life prevails.
Diana Butler Bass writes that: “Religion, with its cycle of rituals based upon Sabbaths, months, and seasons, was intended to reconnect God with humanity and nature.”
But many of us in the modern world weren’t raised in a religion. And many who were didn’t choose to stay. Because of this many of us don’t have a sacred rhythm to follow. So what I’m proposing here, is a spiritual practice of season keeping. I certainly didn’t make it up. It’s been going on for thousands of years—practiced in one way or another by our ancestors (no matter who they were).
In the northern hemisphere we just had the Autumnal Equinox and entered the season of fall. The equinox marks the moment when the sun’s path crosses the equator, and day and night, for one cycle, are equal. The equinox offers us a moment to experience and reflect on the balance of light and dark in our lives. As we move past the Autumnal Equinox, day becomes shorter than night. We are moving into the darkness. This is a time of year that we experience both the harvest—the fruit of our efforts all year, and the reality of compost as leaves turn and fall. As we move toward darkness we are faced with the reality that death is the cost of life and we are given time to face our shadow. This season can be depressing. But if we approach it with intention it can offer a time of deep introspection—a time of inward wrestling with big questions like who am I? Or more specifically, who am I becoming through the seasons of my life? What direction am I moving in and how am I getting there?
As we move toward outward darkness, I wish you the blessing of time with the Light Within.