As warmer days near their close, family and friends, who extol the virtues of the summer months, groan when I speak of autumn as my favorite season and think it heresy when I share how much I love winter. One friend rolled his eyes when told that one of my favorite hymns was composed by a Frances Wile when asked by her pastor to “extol the beauty of winter.” The first stanza of the 1910 song “All Beautiful the March of Days:”
All beautiful the march of days,
as seasons come and go;
the hand that shaped the rose
has formed the crystal of the snow,
has sent the silver frost of heaven,
the flowing waters sealed,
and laid a silent loveliness
on hill and wood and field.
About twenty years ago, when I lived near Rochester, New York, there came a day in the middle of a colder than usual winter when Julia Figueras of WXXI, the local classical music radio station, reminded people of warmer weather by playing Vivaldi’s “Summer” from “The Four Seasons.” I called the station and made a pledge contingent upon her broadcasting Vivaldi’s “Winter” sometime in the middle of the next summer. She promised, called me one day in July just before she did, and publicly announced why she was playing a piece about winter on a hot summer day. I paid my pledge.
As people of faith, we recognize there are seasons of our lives. I hope all of us appreciate all those times, not only as they unfold in our lives, but as they evolve among the lives of family, friends, and colleagues. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship and fellowship often experience the beauty that comes with opportunities for inter-generational gatherings. The presence of the elderly, the young, and all of the rest of us in between invites a celebration of the past as recalled by those who are older along with promises for the future as reflected in the eyes (and energy) of those at the other end of the spectrum. The only children who distracted or bothered me during worship were my own daughters. As to others, why should we not welcome younger disciples into our midst, even the overly energetic ones?
Just as spring is associated with birth, so winter is often linked to dying and death. All that was in bloom in the spring, which grows and ripens in the summer, and brings forth the harvest and beauty of autumn abruptly dies with the onset of those winter months. But just as birth is a season to be celebrated, so we need to accept the seasons which follow including the one which sees an end to our days on earth. But then, many people of faith look beyond life to yet another season, albeit one clouded in mystery.
Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992), a member of the United Methodist Church, composed over 200 choral works. The hymn for which she is best known is “In the Bulb There Is a Flower.” Shortly after writing it, her husband Ronald, a United Methodist clergyman, developed a terminal illness. He requested it be sung at his service. Copyright issues preclude including the words here, but it is sufficient to write that the hymn reminds us that winter is always followed by spring and that for many people of faith, after the closing seasons of life, there is a season beyond full of hope, promise, and resurrection.
One final reminder of the wonder of God’s creation as found in the seasons of nature and the seasons of our lives come from the third stanza of the (open source) hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
the ripe fruits in the garden,
God made them everyone.
In hopes we enjoy these closing days of summer, and the enfolding of all the seasons of our lives, I remain, Ralph
[In addition to its inclusion in many hymnals, the hymn “In the Bulb There Is a Flower” can found with any internet search.]
The Rev. Ralph S. English is the Pastor and teacher at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Gloversville.