People Look East: Furrows Be Glad

Furrows be glad though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there,
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in time the flower may flourish.
People look East and sing today:
Love the rose is on the way.

After a lovely extended Fall, there is no doubt that Winter has arrived in southern Ontario. Summer’s greens and Fall’s shocking yellows, oranges, and reds have given way to Winter’s drab beige and grey. The soft, supple earth has become hard and unyielding. The days are at their shortest. It’s going to be a long few months before Spring and life returns.

And yet, life will return.

It is the truest lesson of the year’s seasons: No matter how hard and barren the land may look, life will return. To paraphrase Jesus, the land is not dead; it is only resting.

In an image we’ve returned to often this year, St. Hildegard von Bingen referred to this force of life as a divine power she called veridity, or greenness. This image of grace as “the insidious, unstoppable, persistent, in-breaking power of life itself,” working in and through our world, our circumstances, and us, has proven to be — if you will pardon the pun — very fertile in this pandemic year. It reminds us that God is always at work in and through the world, no matter what the outward appearances may be. And so, even as this season is cold and barren, we look with expectation for a new season, when life will return.

But lest we get ahead of ourselves, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, “For everything there is a season.” There are seasons for planting and harvesting, seasons for building up, seasons for expansion and growth. But there are also seasons of ‘in between’, seasons for rest and preparation, seasons for tearing down, seasons for contraction and pause. And, brothers and sisters, these are the seasons we are in now, both literally (at least in the Northern hemisphere) and metaphorically.

In our productivity- and profit-obsessed culture, a wintery, barren year like 2020 can feel like a waste. Our consumption-based economy demands that we are always wanting more, so we’ve been taught to fixate on what we don’t have and what we can’t do instead of remembering what we do have and what we can do. But the thing about Winter is that it only looks like nothing is happening. Winter has its jobs to do and it does them well. The snow and fallen leaves provide a cozy blanket to protect the earth from the worst of the cold and a warm home for rodents and other small animals. Cold weather ensures maple trees produce the sugary sap we tap to create syrup. And the process of freezing and thawing helps break down seeds’ hard shells, allowing them to sprout when the weather changes. Winter may be quiet in nature, but it is far from dead. It’s a necessary season.

And this is why I love the second verse of “People Look East.” It reminds us, yes, to look East in expectation for the warm rising Sun and the promise of flourishing flowers; but also not to overlook the important work and wisdom of Winter. We need seasons to rest and prepare so that we can work when the next season comes. We need seasons of contraction in order to expand. We need to inhale before we can exhale. We need seasons to nourish, and, yes, even break down, the seeds that have been planted. These seasons are as much a part of God’s greening movement in the world as the seasons of obvious growth and flourishing.

There is no question that we have been in a difficult season this year. There is no sense in which 2020 has been ‘fun’ or ‘enjoyable’ for anyone. And yet, as I look back, I am amazed at how rich it has been — how much I’ve learned about myself and my relationships; what has been revealed about the fault lines in our society and weaknesses in our economy; the ways my faith and perspectives have been strengthened and deepened. As much as I long for the ground to thaw in our world, I think, like any Winter, this season has been necessary and preparatory for what comes next.

And so in this second week of Advent, I’d like to encourage you to contemplate these themes. Here are some questions to guide your reflections:

  • What has this year taught you?
  • Amidst all that you have missed this year, what don’t you miss about ‘normal life’?
  • What has kept you warm this year?
  • What is waiting to ‘sprout’ and flourish in your life?

Furrows be glad though earth is bare;
One more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in time the flower may flourish.
People look east and sing today:
Love the rose is on the way.

2 thoughts on “People Look East: Furrows Be Glad

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