You may know the words to this in songs: I enjoy this lovely setting by Alfred Fedak or the 70's hit by The Byrds or as revived more recently by Bruce Springsteen.
The natural rhythm of this season might be that of bundling up for forays out into the cold to do the last of the fall chores or to take a brisk walk; snuggling under the covers until the sun comes up; eating hearty soups and stews and hot cereal; and gathering around a fire with a hot drink, good conversation and some handwork. I say that's what the natural rhythm "might be," perhaps because that's what I'd like my days to include, or that's what my body might prefer given its druthers.
And of course, "'tis the season to be jolly," but that is also in response to the darkening days of the year.
But my days in early December don't seem to be much different than my days in May or September: my daughter and I are getting up for early rehearsals—except now it's dark when we leave the house; I'm still taking a salad for lunch most days—except now I know that this lettuce cannot be growing locally outside; we stay up well past sunset, in fact we're not usually even home by sunset, and we just turn on the lights, stay up and ignore our bodies' yearnings for more sleep in the darkening evening hours. I have to allow extra time for scraping the frost from the car windows on these early mornings, and sometime soon, I'll have to allow even more time (=less sleep) to shovel the snow so that we can get to the car and be on our way, but our schedules make no allowances for the sun, the dark, the rain, the snow, the cold, and in the summer for the light and the heat. We make no allowances for foods that are not in season, not grown nearby, and not readily available without preservatives and processing. In fact in this season to be jolly, there is yet more rushing around, leavened only in some few places and times by quiet candlelit moments of Advent and Hannukah.
Frank Lipman in Spent, also found retitled Revive, writes:
We evolved over thousands of generations as beings who lived and worked in harmony with the seasons, and as a result these rhythms became imprinted in our genes. They are part of every aspect of our body's inner workings. … Every system in the body is affected by circadian rhythms. … Science has show clear patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, enzyme production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities, each linked to these daily activities.
As Homo sapiens, we are physically and mentally designed to eat natural and seasonal foods from our nearby environs and exercise in spurts—exert, rest, recover, exert, and so on. We are meant to have fresh air, sun, and water. We are built to sleep when the sun goes down and wake when it rises. And very few of us are living this way. … If we don't move back in the direction of our genes, we will all ultimately end up Spent. (p. 7)
[Spent=overwhelmed, exhausted, and afflicted with this disorder that makes us feel decades older than our years; burned out—physically, mentally, and spiritually, p. 5].
Instead we are ignoring our natural rhythms, sitting at a desk all day, getting up in the dark, pressing on without rest or breaks, in the glare of electric lights and computer monitors no matter the hour, eating the quickest snack at hand, often foods that are hard to digest and/or of low nutritional value. In his program to revive and restore people from that Spent state, the first thing Dr. Lipman does is have people cut out sugar and artificial sweeteners from their diets.
Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions writes that,
In 1821, the average sugar intake in America was 10 pounds per person per year; today it is 170 pounds per person, representing over one-fourth the average caloric intake. Another large portion of total calories comes from white flour and refined vegetable oils. This means that less than half the diet must provide all the nutrients to a body that is under constant stress from its intake of sugar, white flour and rancid and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Herein lies the root cause of the vast increase in degenerative diseases that plague modern America. (p. 23)Not surprisingly, all of those ways of preparing food take time that most of us no longer give ourselves. If I want oatmeal this morning for breakfast, I don't usually think about starting it to soak 24 hours before, but that is the more seasonally rhythmic and digestively accessible method that Fallon suggests.
Sprouting, soaking in warm acidic water, sour leavening, culturing and fermenting—all processes used in traditional societies—deactivate enzyme inhibitors, thus making nutrients in grains, nuts and seeds more readily available. (p. 47)
How could we all begin to honor creation's rhythms more wholly and fully? Being made in the image of God, our rhythms are God's rhythms. We are called to "Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and pipe!" (Psalm 150:4) Can we find our way back to the rhythms of creation's great dance of praise? I fear that we cannot easily start or sustain this alone as individuals because so much cultural presence is against us. We need to have community support. Is this a way that Christian communities might be healthily countercultural? As we live in the season of preparation for the time when the "Word became flesh and lived among us," could we think of how we really are incarnated, embodied, and honor the rhythms that our Creator built into our bodies and into our environment? Let us not be conformed to this world, but rather be transformed.
May the peace and hope of the season be made alive in you today. Find one way to honor the rhythms of this season of God's creation, and send me a comment and let me know what it was.