As I am writing this it is sopping wet outside. It is what many would call a bleak day in Melbourne, Australia – the city of four seasons in one day. But today there is just one colour and one temperature – grey and cold!
It feels like a long time ago now when spring in our fair city was starting to emerge, and I was celebrating the explosion of life around me. Now for those in the northern hemisphere, you are experiencing the marvel of nature in full colour as you bask in the warmth of summer.
But for us in the southern hemisphere it is time to look at the other side of life which God presents to us. The brown moments, the leafless days, the bare-boned times of our lives which are mirrored in the structure of the leaves, the trees, and the decaying foliage. In other words, these are the days some of us would simply call dreary, depressing, or even just ‘yuck’. We may want to be tucked up inside with a hearty bowl of soup and a good book, or simply sleep in for just five minutes more… We want to hide away and hibernate.
But as I have been noticing more of these changing and greying days around me, I have truly discovered that this has its own beauty too. There is something authentically good and freeing about shutting down, at least for a while. There is an innate beauty in the process of winding back, retreating, and seeing nature curl up under the covers.
Recently in this country there has been hot debate about euthanasia. Many strongly support people who want to end their lives due to terminal illness or who just want to have the choice to do so at a time they deem suitable. It is a highly emotional and sensitive topic. In fact, our media recently reported about an individual who flew to another country to legally end his life. He felt he was done with living and was very old, but nothing else was medically wrong with him.
I did not know the person concerned, and I do not want to judge him, but I was saddened by this story and by his decision. I feel sad about a society in which our older citizens may feel that their lives have no meaning, or that they are somehow burdens on others rather than being sources of wisdom and God’s precious children. I feel sad about a society that considers people over a certain age as being no longer useful, or beautiful, or contributing to anything – even when it is not overtly said, it is often implied, especially in the media. Many are left alone to die, or kept shut away in retirement homes.
But it is not God’s way. God gave us life, and it is His to take back in His own time. God has especially needed the elderly at important moments in history to fulfil His plans in many ways – as mentioned in my Year of you post. Many people have also discovered their true calling and new talents in their advanced years – no life is ever wasted.
If we spend time in nature, we see that the cycle of life includes the ‘elderly’ too – the wrinkly leaves, the degenerating compost, the mossy mess of vegetation, the twisted barren branches. These all serve a purpose and are stunning in their own ways. They are richer, have more depth and character, and therefore feed the soil and our souls. They bring new nutrients and qualities to the ecosystem which allow certain plants to grow, provide food for the worms, and are a feast for other beneficial insects. It is often the most sought-after foods and plants which grow in the darkest or shadiest places, including mushrooms, truffles, and other fungi. Their beauty is in their so-called ‘ugliness’ and they are the tastier for it.
I used to walk around my pot plants and garden purposefully seeking to yank out the rotting leaves and spent flowers, or to chop them right out of existence. While I will eventually need to do so in order to keep my plants tidy and prepare for new growth, I find myself letting them stay in place for a lot longer now. I take the time to appreciate their special structure and the lessons they teach me about life – that no matter how worn or beaten you may look or feel, you still have a place and purpose on earth.
I have often sung the hymn below and find it playing in my mind as I wake to the cold and misty mornings. There is a special wonder about the dark seasons of our lives because God has a reason for them too. Even if we are going through slushy days, what is there to fear when ‘God is before me’? There is mystery and marvel in the fog. He is here no matter what the season, stage, or age of our lives. God is in the ‘slithers of gold’ and He is, truly, the ‘glory in grey’.
Today I Awake (by John Bell)
Today I awake and God is before me.
At night, as I dreamt, he summoned the day;
For God never sleeps but patterns the morning
with slithers of gold or glory in grey.
Today I arise and Christ is beside me.
He walked through the dark to scatter new light.
Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people
to hope and to heal, resist and invite.
Today I affirm the Spirit within me
at worship and work, in struggle and rest.
The Spirit inspires all life which is changing
from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.
Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,
above and beneath, before and behind;
the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together
They called me to life and call me their friend.