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Ecclesiastes was on to something. While an exuberant ephemerality is at the heart of that ancient book, its boiled-down truth is one we hum in our heads for good reason: to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.
If pressed to point to proof of the genius at work in the cogs and gears of creation, the faithful wheeling of the year would be my number one exhibit: the undulations of earth's turning, the rhythms of shadow and light, heat and cold, the enlivening and the dying and all the tug and pull and paradox in between, that brings us the carousel of ever-shifting seasons.
More than anything it teaches me trust, with a chaser of awe.
The way we're nearly at wit's end, can't take one more day of the gloom or the cold or the inferno — and then suddenly it starts to give way, a softening comes, the heavens shift and we're on to the next picture show. There seems a soulful omniscience ever at work — a hop, skip and a jump ahead of little old worrying, wearying us. Rebirth is its constant; no wonder we're brought to our knees.
Each season, in four quarter turns, brings forth its own headlines. There's the yin and yang of spring, the season of exodus and resurrection, of equal parts heartbreak and magic. "The fizz and the roar of the land coming back to life again," is how Robert Macfarlane brilliantly captured it.
"The seasons are our Scripture text," writes Celtic spiritualist Christine Valters Paintner. "This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us something with its continuous Scripture of leaves," echoes William Stafford, the late poet and pacifist.
It's symphonic beyond measure, the way the seasonal threads are woven, how one gives in to another, how each holds up another. No wonder poets and painters, all those who keep close watch, are drawn to its boundless variations, each a study of creation in motion, ever new, often timeless.
"Creation is here and now," wrote Henry Beston, the naturalist and Yankee poet. "We are not living on a mechanism running down like a clock but on an earth sustained by an ever-creating, outpouring stream of the divine imagination."
Take springtime, season of quickening, season of equal parts shadow and light — the very equation at its astronomical heart, the vernal equinox marking the fleeting moment when earth's axis aligns directly with the sun, the sun shines squarely on the equator and the planet is neatly halved with equal allotments of light.
Emily Dickinson calls springtime "a sacrament," and, as always, nails it, certainly when you consider the dictionary definition of sacrament as "a means of divine grace." Hard to think otherwise of the "trumpet call of the return of light," as Beston saw it, or "the unsealing of the waters of earth," come the warming-up months in winter's wake.
I think of those stirrings from deep underground as part of the ablutions of springtime, the rinse of the in-rushing air when the staleness of winter is broomed out the door.
Springtime, when one minute tenderlings are breaking through the Earth's thawing crust and then — kebang! — the snows fall. It is the season for teaching resilience. We tiptoe out in the dawn to dust ice crystals off the furled petals of the earliest daffodils.
And how can our souls not feel resuscitated when at daybreak the birdsong is limitless?
But, just as certainly, April's tempestuous winds will topple the robin's nest from the nook where it was wedged. To come upon a fallen mud-daubed construction now cradling orbs broken open is to be pierced by the merciless pangs of the season of starting over again.
It is in these topographies of time, these geographies of wonder as we're walking the year, that we stand our one best chance for intimate encounter with the Almighty, the Cloudmaker, the Heavens Opener, the One Who Puts Flight to the Wing.
I think of the words of Meister Eckhart: "God's ground is my ground and my ground is God's ground." And so, too, time, as inscribed in Ecclesiastes: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. A time to behold, a time for every blessing under heaven.
Barbara Mahany, a former Chicago Tribune writer, is the author of "The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God's First Sacred Text."