This article was published in the September to December 2015 issue of Rapport magazine.
Bob Evens reflects on life’s different seasons – and God’s provision for each new phase.
At the end of September I shall be in Lee Abbey Devon leading a week of Bible study entitled ‘Journeying deeper into faith’ using paintings by Caravaggio and others.
I love how Caravaggio portrays Biblical truth as he captures the contrasting seasons in the life of the 12 disciples as they journey deeper into faith. Sometimes their eyes open – faith is easy and they walk in warm sunny days; at other times they lose their way as their faith is hardened by cold winds of rivalry and self-sufficiency.
Their journey of faith involves a repeating cycle of changing seasons in their spiritual understanding and maturity. That will be our experience too, so we need to recognise the season in which our faith is currently placed and allow God to equip and support us, just as a farmer does with their soil and livestock. Whatever the season of faith in which our life is placed, the Holy Spirit will be alongside to comfort and strengthen us.
The closing days of September bring signs of autumn as the leaves change colour before our eyes and for me this year autumn will be a special time alongside Community and guests in Lee Abbey Devon. When I was the local Bishop of Crediton I met many who worked on the land in the villages and communities of Devon. Often I saw farmers marking the new season of autumn by subtly changing their work patterns as dairy herds were brought in and housed in large sheds, even though it meant feeding the cows on costly silage and concentrates.
Autumn is when shepherds get their ewes in good condition before they go to the ram and many sheep are brought down off the hills before winter. On pig farms effluent is collected and stored prior to spreading on arable fields as fertiliser before the heavy rains come. Winter wheat needs to be drilled and so the farmer’s work goes steadily on season after season!
Autumn is also a time when fruit is harvested and apples eaten ripe from the tree or enjoyed as cider made from local apples with all the flavour of Devon – or turned into my favourite apple and blackberry crumble with berries picked from the hedgerows. Grapes grown on south-facing Devon slopes will be harvested and crushed to yield wine to enjoy.
Our Christian faith is meant to produce spiritual fruit which results in changed lives and generous outward facing people who make a difference!
We can trust that God will be at work in our lives seeking to bring just such a harvest in us yet often we fail to recognise the fruit of his activity because we peer through a mist of fearfulness or self doubt which is slow to clear.
Autumn is described as ‘the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and October days often begin with a mist which means motorists have to clear car windscreens each morning. Mist and fruit seem to go together in the season of autumn and I think they are found together in our spiritual life too.
We sometimes think that certainty and lack of doubt are evidence of spiritual maturity yet those who exhibit such qualities can become entangled by arrogance and over-confidence. Indeed when the disciples were at their most certain and self sufficient they frequently failed to understand the truths Jesus was trying to show them.
Perhaps that is why Caravaggio is so good at painting St Peter, as like Peter, Caravaggio’s own life was a tale of glorious triumph mixed with total failure!
So I wonder what ‘season’ you find yourself living in at the moment? Perhaps it feels like winter when the soil of your faith is cold and there is little sign of anything likely to produce fruit. The winds of difficulty or disappointment blow hard and you are tempted to give up.
Or does your life feels like spring and you see signs of spiritual growth? The fruit is coming and it’s a time of hope and expectation.
Or do you feel you live in warm summer days with fruit being harvested and dreams turning into possibilities? God’s gifts are clear and joy is your companion.
Or are you living in the autumnal ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’? There is spiritual growth and much for which to give God thanks, and yet your inner questions seem unanswered and the way ahead is less clear. Journeying deeper into faith seems to involve entering mists of ‘unknowing’ with trust as your companion.
The seasons of our life are constantly changing and we need wisdom to recognise the gifts, challenges and opportunities of each one. These changing seasons invite us to remember the things that really matter and to explore further into the reality of God’s love for us.
Through all the changing scenes
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.
Bob Evens is the former Bishop of Crediton in North Devon.