In every season, my garden speaks, reinforcing in leaf and humus Scripture’s messages around patience and diligence, inviting me to rejoice with the arrival of every cucumber and blazing pumpkin and to lament with the erect skeletons of sunflowers, their heads bowed at season’s end. Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.
That is the message of All Shall Be Well by Catherine McNiel, in which she shares the trajectory of her own awakening to God’s presence in his messy, abundant world. Her observations pay tribute to every season in its turn:
Find spring on a walk outside, coupled with a look inside.
Spring is the season of thawing hope and widening light. It invites us to look despair in the face and to trust for joy because God is present in the clouds that obscure our view. Spring-hope whispers that if you listen with your heart, you will hear God’s voice rejoicing over you with singing.
McNiel’s spring tonic is a prescription to take in the beauty with all your senses–the aroma of green and the sound of wetness–and to make a celebratory list of all the gifts of the season.
Find summer with wide open eyes that take in the night stars on a sultry evening or the power of wind and lightening during a storm.
The season of abundant fruition, summer is also the season of toil. Long daylight stretches faithfulness thin and makes demands that remind us of how cushy our life is in other seasons. McNiel interjects the concept of telos–a Greek word that means “end purpose” or “goal” (68)–to tame summer’s crashing pandemonium. Flourishing in the midst of the buzz and brouhaha of summer requires clarity of purpose and a mindful stewarding of our faithfulness.
Find autumn by celebrating the advancing darkness with candles and twinkling lights.
In all its bright beauty and generous harvest, autumn whispers a gentle warning. While we celebrate with pumpkin carving and corn mazes, McNiel reminds twenty-first century readers that harvest carried a dire significance just a couple generations ago–and still does in many parts of the world–for abundant fall harvest is the only way to eat and live through a long, bleak winter.
The curriculum of autumn assures us that death is transformation, that letting go of the old makes room for something new; and the twilight hours are for resting, pondering, and deepening as the light gives way to darkness.
Find winter in every season by making room for rest.
God’s creative work in winter is quiet as a blanket of snow and dangerous as sub-zero air. McNiel warns readers of the futility of trying to “overcome dormancy… mutinously straining to move forward anyway.” (131) In winter, we celebrate the arrival of snow with hot chocolate and snowmen, maybe to protect our hearts from the knowledge that cabin fever will set in come February as the glory of whiteness begins to feel like wilderness living.
Celebrating every sign of life and giving thanks for the borrowed strength that comes from God and others, we are called in winter to exercise faith that endurance is not for nothing, and that a long slog through a bleak season may require good traveling companions who carry and sustain us with their presence and their love.
Because I love to greet each new season with joy, I will be keeping All Shall Be Well handy for, like its author, I hear God inviting me to come near in their unique beauty, and “I’d like to get better at meeting him halfway.” (32)
Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Because “all manner of things shall be most well,”
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