Monday, October 1, 2012

seasons of the year

Our celebrations as a church follow a pattern - a pattern set by custom and tradition and calendar, but also by the natural cycles of the year, the seasons of the sun and phases of the moon.

You know when it’s fall. You know when it’s winter, and springtime, and summer, and fall again. That is the Earth's natural year, the round of the seasons. It follows the sun, as our planet’s course through the heavens brings us closer and then takes us farther away from that stellar source of light.

Seasons vary from place to place, from time to time: we know them not by clock or calendar but by the rhythms of life and light. There are measurements of course: solstice and equinox, and halfway between these, the quarter days. These have been codified by calendars, to give us a handle on what is happening to us as days grow shorter or lengthen. The liturgical round of the
Christian year follows this pattern.

The ancient Celtic calendar was also built around the seasons of the sun. The Celtic calendar included not only the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes but also the days halfway between them, which they called the quarter days. Each is associated with an element of nature.

Samhain, associated with the element of earth, at the end of October and the beginning of November, marks the turning of the Celtic year. Imbolc, the festival of light, comes at the beginning of February. Beltaine, associated with fire, is May Day. Lughnasa, feast of the air and wind, is August 1st.

The year, in this imaging, starts in a gathering darkness, when the seed in the ground, planted earlier, begins in silence to take root and grow. Something is ended; something new has begun. It is like our understanding of death and resurrection. It is a harvest time for past things, looking back, and, looking forward, to what is already but not yet come into our world, a time of hidden new life.

The Christian year, and the Church calendar, reflect the seasonal rhythms of the natural cycle of the solar year – and it shows us that in its own cycle of feasts and fasts. These, too, following the seasons of the sun, are arranged around the solstices and equinoxes and the quarter days between them.

The liturgical year begins with Advent, the season of preparation, for four Sundays before Christmas. Just past the winter solstice comes the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. We celebrate light and life and the incarnation of the holy one of God. The celebration continues through the twelve days of Christmas, and the feast of the Epiphany, into January’s Sundays, including the 
Baptism of Our Lord

The next feast comes around the time of the quarter day at the beginning of February, when we celebrate Candlemas (Candelaria in Mexico). It’s a perfect reason for another party, as we remember the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, completing the cycle of the birth of our King. In some traditional cultures, the winner of the prize baked into the Epiphany cake brings treats for all to share on this day (let’s see what happens here). 

Seasons and celebrations begin to change; days lengthen. Shrove Tuesday comes; we celebrate with a pancake supper. 

There is a shift now, at Ash Wednesday, remembering the water of Baptism and the coming themes of death and resurrection. We prepare, through Lenten discipline, for the great events of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Eve and 
Easter Day. Fifty great days later – eight days after the Ascension – is the feast of Pentecost.

Breaking into the midst of the Lent/Easter/Pentecost cycle (which is tied to the phases of the moon well as the seasons of the sun) is the feast of unexpected news, the revelations of the 
Annunciation, on March 25, just after the vernal equinox.

We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the fulfillment of baptismal promise, and the growing body of Christ’s faithful people, through summer and into fall. 

The summer solstice comes just around the feast of our patron, Saint Alban, and just before the feast of the Nativity of St John, the Baptist on June 24 (six months from Christmas). 

Around the time of the quarter day at the beginning of August we celebrate The Transfiguration (and Picnic Sunday). 

As the autumnal equinox indicates a change of season toward the end of September, so do the feasts of St Michael and All Angels and St Francis of Assisi  (with the Blessing of the Animals).

St John said of our Lord, ‘he must increase, I must decrease’ - and now indeed the days slowly shorten, imperceptibly at first, until the season’s quickening accelerates into autumn, harvest, and the eve of All Saints’ appears on the horizon of our year. At All Saints, we remember and thank God for the saints of the past, celebrate with those present with us today, and pray for those who will join the Kingdom in the future.

All Saints' Day and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed (in Mexico, el Día de los Muertos), November 1st and 2nd, falling at the quarter day, provide an opportunity to offer thanks for what we have received from what has come before and give us a chance to pray for what is to come.

All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee— words of David, how appropriate they sound, in the season of thanksgiving, as we celebrate the in-gathering of pledges and the offering of our own blessings back to the source of all blessings, God who creates, redeems, and sustains.

The Sundays just before Advent are a season of anticipation – they focus on the Kingdom of Christ. This culminates on the last Sunday of the church year, in the feast of Christ the King.

Look back with gratitude, 

Look forward with anticipation, 
In all things give thanks
– Christine Sine

What season of the year, you may wish to ask yourself, fits your spirit? Where do you find resonance with your own spirituality? What is the season that speaks to your heart? 

Are you in a season of anticipation – of the Advent of Christ? Does the Incarnation fill your heart with quiet longing, with loud rejoicing, with the sureness of peace, the future of hope, the promise of love, represented by Christmas? Have you welcomed the new into the kingdom of your heart, giving due obeisance, like the three kings of Epiphany, to the presence of the true ruler of the universe – however humbly he appears now to our eyes? Are you embarked upon a journey of preparation – the long desert trek of Lent? Are you in Easter, full of the reality of the risen life in Christ? Are you in the middle of summer days, in the long green season of Pentecost, watching things grow and helping them along, anticipating the fullness of fall’s harvest celebrations? Are you celebrating the kingdom season, the end of days after Pentecost, and the in-breaking (already-but-not-yet) reign of God?

All these seasons are filled with possibilities; meanings that may speak to you each in their turn.

You are invited into relationship with God, in each season of the year, and in each chamber of your heart.

You are beckoned by God, through Christ, into relationship with the eternal Word and holy Spirit, who together with the Father, the source of all Being, are the One true home, the One true light, the One true timeless reality that lies beneath and beyond all our days.

Come into celebration – come in quiet or in laughter, in sorrow or in delight; come to Christ at harvest and planting, breathe in the Spirit in summer’s air and winter’s, and walk with God in every season of your life. 

Come with us on the journey together. We are one family – the household of God. And you are always welcome under His roof.



Marcus Losack, “Celtic Spirituality and the Pre-Christian Tradition”, Lecture in the Chapel of the Ascension, Markree Castle, Co. Sligo, May 22, 2007.

Herbert O'Driscoll, Prayer Among Friends (Toronto: Path Books, 2008).

Hugh Stevenson, "The Secularization of the Calendar", St. Patrick's Grapevine, Newsletter of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church, Kenwood, Calif., July/August 2010.

David Marshall.

Tom Cashman.

Nora Chadwick, The Celts.

Caitlin Matthews, The Celtic Book of Days.

Christine Sine, "Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart", Accessed October 1, 2012.

Adapted from "
the year's turning", an article for the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., November 2010.

No comments: