May 2014 • "To Everything"

Yesterday, I went outside and cut my grass for the first time this year. I would almost say that I enjoyed the experience of getting back outdoors after a long winter and doing some yardwork. Almost. Perhaps it was the cool sixty-five degree weather, or perhaps it was the sense of satisfaction of seeing the yard shorn of its overgrown grass and weeds. The nostalagia, I’m sure, will quickly fade as humidity levels and temperatures increase over the summer. This cool, spring season of grasscutting shall pass, just as the sweltering days of summer shall surely pass into the cooler days of fall. So goes the cyclical nature of life - another season comes and goes; grass grows and withers; another year is already veering toward the midway point of the calendar. I’m not entirely sure why I’m in such an “Ecclesiastes” type of mood—“to everything there is a season” (of course, I can only write this line while sofly humming the tune of the song by The Byrds). I think it’s because the anniversary of my grandmother’s death is a week away. This year will mark the seventh since her passing in the spring of 2007. It seems unfair that the rhythms of life (including mundane patterns like grasscutting) continue to march along without her. But, at the same time, the new birth of spring provides some measure of solace. I’m able to temporarily find some peace in this period of new growth, in addition to many other activities that come along with finishing a semester, the beginning of summer, and the general lifting of the spirit that occurs after the end of a long winter. Time has a funny way of taking away those things we love and, simultaneously, providing ever new opportunities to engage the things in the world that generate meaning and beauty in our lives. And it is to these things which my mind turns when I think of my grandmother. She had a way of finding joy and humor—a lighthearted air—that I often wish I was able to find when I feel the weight of my own shortcomings a bit too much to bear. She didn’t seem to have a lot of time for the excessive feelings of guilt and shame that often come with the package of many religious expressions. She also didn’t have much patience with the sense of moral superiority or haughtiness that also tends to come with the package of those same religious expressions. As I continue along my own journey, I can’t help but feel that she had tapped into some wisdom that perhaps is made available only with age—wisdom that comes through a healthy appreciation for the fleeting nature of time and the cyclical, repetitive dynamic of the seasons of our lives, just as the writer of Ecclesiastes figured out so long ago. Over the past year as I’ve taught young adults at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’ve noticed that they (and I) often express a longing for some type of spiritual practice that provides this deeper sense of peace in a life that is overly technologized, hectic, and further removed from tight-knit communities of support. Many of them are becoming more aware of the broken places in our world—and they long for ways to fix them—and they also are becoming more aware of the way life can drain our energy, our vitality, or our spiritual reserves—even when they don’t have or care for the traditional religious language to name that sense of emptiness. While I’m not sure how this all overlaps, I can’t help but think of my grandmother and of the writer of Ecclesiastes. They, too, yearned for peace and found it, even in the midst of ever changing (and ‘always staying the same’) nature of the world. They found it in God, albeit perhaps in unconventional ways. I pray the same for my students. For myself. For my family. And for all those who yearn for solace in a busy, hectic, but ever beautiful world.


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