I’ve been thinking a lot lately about timeliness and seasonality. Every year retailers push the “holiday” season longer and longer. One of the malls in the area was fully decorated for Christmas in mid-October, which I think is just ridiculous. Several local radio stations have been playing Christmas music non-stop since late October, and I’m already fatigued by the whole thing.
It seems to me that our society has lost its sense of seasonality. In the natural order of things, there are times to prepare and times to feast. In our consumer culture, there is none of the former, and too much of the latter. Preparation for feasting is important, because you cannot fully savor the feast if there is no fast.
As I grow older, I am more appreciative of the fasting seasons set aside by the Orthodox Church. This doesn’t mean that I find them particularly easy; I don’t. The vegan food requirements are impossible for me right now, what with the state of my food allergies and the requirements of a nursing baby, so I don’t fast strictly.* That is the season of my life right now. But even though I don’t participate fully in the dietary restrictions of the seasons of preparation, I still feel the shift in season. I still need restriction for the rebellion in my soul. I struggle mightily with obedience, and fasting seasons are a good time to examine my sin and keep trying to be better. During fasting seasons, in addition to restraining from animal products, we scale back our social commitments, and eat more simply than usual, avoiding regular sweets and other treats, and making fasting treats a rarity. We try to look inward more, and examine ourselves, to find those sinful parts of our being that lurk in the corners, and try to shine the Light on them and banish them forever. These are life-long tasks, with a natural ebb and flow to them. That is where the change of seasons is useful.
As we approach the Nativity fast (which for those of us on the old-style Julian calendar starts the Monday after Thanksgiving this year), I look forward to quieter moments. I want to step back from the frenetic pace of ordinary life and savor the knowledge that Christ our Savior is coming, has come, will come again, in the understanding of the fullness of time. (I wrote my master’s thesis on the Orthodox understanding of time; you can read an article version in The Road to Emmaus, Winter 2011, Issue #44. Click HERE to order). This time of preparation is good and give balance to the twelve days of feasting that follow the fast. And even though I struggle with fasting meals, I find that at the end of the twelve days, I’m ready to resume our ordinary fasting schedule, and I’m looking ahead to Great Lent, longing to rebalance again with fasting and introspection. And so it goes.
In this season of our lives, we are parents of numerous small children in a small row home. This season means that we must make a lot of restrictive choices for their well-being. It means we cannot help clean up after coffee hour on Sundays because they need to get home for naps and we have an hour’s drive. It means we don’t stay for wedding receptions and count ourselves fortunate to be able to witness the ceremony. It means hosting holiday get-togethers instead of traveling because it is too disruptive for the children (and with three, too expensive!) It means minimal or no Christmas decorations. When we do travel, we plan to stay longer in one place, and allow more time to get where we need to be. It means ordering groceries online instead of shopping the local farmer’s markets regularly. It means changing the bedsheets on an as-need basis rather than on a regular schedule. It means gates and child locks and restricted access to the house. It means staying home rather than going out. It means adhering to nap schedules and being strict about meal planning (and execution!) I could go on and on. This season will not last forever, and someday soon, our children will be old enough to do things for themselves, stay up late on occasion, and help out with the groceries and the chores. The feast of those days to come will be all the sweeter for the fast of these years when they are little.