Faith in fallow times (PULP column)

Faith in fallow times

I don’t do winter well. Some call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D. – seriously), but I just get melancholy. Aside from being from the south where winters are only notes on the calendar to help tell time, days shrink in winter until I’m waking up in the dark and driving home in the dark.

What’s worse, everything dies.

We all know spring is coming, but we only get to it by enduring the fallow time that precedes it. It takes a bit of the edge off to know the snow, cold and lack of life seemingly everywhere doesn’t drag on forever, but for us winter-averse folks, it’s a time to be endured rather than embraced.

In the Christian faith, there is the period of advent that precedes Christmas, which always is a time of hopeful anticipation. But then, as one who works at a church, and with a wife as a pastor, it’s also a hell of a lot of work, which can diminish the celebration a little.

There are the winter-specific sports too, along with warm nights by the fire, snowball fights and hot tea, but none of this shakes the undercurrent that is the reality of this season: death is palpable.

My mind inclines toward the scripture in Ecclesiastes that says “to everything, there is a season,” good and bad, destructive and reconciling, fallow and fruitful. I do have the benefit of my wife, Amy, being a little more than a month from giving birth to our new daughter, Zoe, which stands in stark contrast against the barren landscape that surrounds us.

But it also makes even more salient the notion that this fragile, innocent little life, before she takes her first breath, is born into a world bound to death.

It’s a dark thought, but part of being a parent is fantasizing about all of the terrible things that will – or even might – happen to your kid.

Yes, death is inescapable, and that’s a drag. But considered another way, death simply is the end of a good thing. After all, it would not seem so bad if life weren’t so precious to begin with. Ultimately, missing out on life because of our fear of death would be like canceling a party before it starts, worried about its end.

In this context, my greatest consolation during the fallow times, whether brought on by weather, economic hardship, lost love or the big “D” itself, is to lean on gratitude, both for what I still have, and even for what I have lost.

Would it be better not to have lived if this is the only assurance we have to avoid death? Do we shrug off the allure of love to mitigate the heartbreak? Do we miss the party to keep from ever getting sent home?

Pain, death, suffering and struggle all are a necessary part of life. The first tenet of Buddhism is “life is suffering.” Though it sounds dire and fatalistic on the surface, the acknowledgment of this removes suffering’s power over us. We are then free to pursue joy and love, not oblivious to suffering, but also not beholden to it.         

It would be nice if there were a way around it, a shortcut to a painless life, but when we find ourselves mired in fallow times, usually the only way out is through.

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