A Year Without Seasons

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Photo by Joisey Showaa - Four Seasons (Flickr Creative Commons)

Sunday’s church service was warm and welcoming. The music was great, the sermon was rich. Just like the Sunday before that, and the Sunday before that, and the Sunday before that.

In this way, our church is a little like San Diego – a place which weather.com describes as having a “moderate climate, and an endless 70 degree summer.” San Diego is the epitome of “temperate”: always warm, but not hot. Cool at times, but never cold. The people from there carry the happy-go-lucky air of those whose only shoes are a pair of flip-flops. Some say it is the most glorious weather of all.

San Diego is warm and welcoming. But San Diego has no seasons.

Denver, on the other hand, has seasons. Denver summer days average 90 degrees, with occasional triple-digit spikes. Their winter temperatures shiver up to no more than 45F. Summer is Hot(!), and winter is Cold(!), and as the temperatures plummet during the Fall transition, the leaves burst out in red, yellow and orange songs. Summer has heat, Fall has color, Winter has snow play, and Spring bring the hope of brave bulbs peeking out after their long hibernation. Some say this is the most glorious weather of all.

On Sunday morning, I sat in my church grateful for its San Diego-type climate. But there was a part of me that longed for a little bit of Denver. For Sunday was Pentecost, and not one word was said or sung to acknowledge it. It was a Sunday like any other.

For believers who observe the liturgical calendar, Sunday was celebrated as the church’s birthday: the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out to fill the church as God’s new temple. It was the day when the church was empowered and commissioned to go into the world, when Babel with its one-language-divided was answered with the arrival of the Spirit and many-languages-united in understanding. It was a day to celebrate the unification of the separated families of humanity.

There was a reason that thousands of Jews were gathered at the temple on that first pentecost. It fell on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot: the day when God’s spirit was poured out on Israel at Sinai and the law was written on tablets of stone (Exodus 19). Hundreds of years later, it was at Shavuot that God’s Spirit poured out the Holy Spirit who was to write the new covenant on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) – the day we know as Pentecost.

Pentecost is a joyful ‘summer’ celebration, it basks in sonlight after a season of sadness. Following the stripped, autumnal days of Lent’s loss and the wintery shadow of Good Friday, Easter Sunday – with its promise of new life and a new birth – looks and feels like Spring: the joy of bulbs peeking from the snow after it seemed nothing would survive the dead of winter. Pentecost is like summer: the full joy following the hope of Spring.

The church calendar, and the liturgy which accompanies it, take us through spiritual seasons. It leads us through repentance, grief, waiting, enlightenment, and just as those who have endured the winter crave the returning sun all the more, so too the liturgical calendar celebrates joy and renewal and worship with the gratitude of those who have known loss.

My insightful friend Stanford (who also goes to San Diegoesque church), recently observed that in churches where we do not have a formal liturgy, the worship and teaching pastors carry a heavy theological load. Week by week, they bear the weight of incorporating all that needs be said about history and purpose, mission and calling, sin and salvation, suffering and hope.

It is up to them to ensure that the whole counsel of scripture (and not just our most comfortable parts) is read: that we have honored and acknowledged Scriptures’ laments and judgments as much as we have celebrated its deliverance and joy. It is up to them to lead and instruct us in prayer. They alone bear the burden of expanding our rather narrow emotional and theological bandwidth: a weight which, in Denverish churches, is shared by the church fathers.

Liturgy gets a bad rap: to many it seems rote and routine, soulless and stilted. And I daresay, without the Holy Spirit, it is. But non-liturgical churches have their own unspoken liturgy – the same phrases we say, pray and sing, week after week. They just aren’t written down in a book. And without the Holy Spirit, it can be just as soulless and stilted.

I love my church, and I like worshiping in San Diego. I love the people in my San Diego, and I am not looking to move.

But sometimes, I still find my soul longing for seasons.

*thanks to Stanford Gibson, Lois Tverberg, Tim Keller and Alastair Roberts for their helpful thoughts- links are included above*


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19 thoughts on “A Year Without Seasons”

  1. Amanda and I have talked about family liturgical supplements for stuff like Pentecost et al…and Pentecost is actually my favorite, because of all of the pyrophile options. What about an annual Pentecost bonfire. That’ll provide sacramental (grace mediated through non audio senses) power.

    I think the value of a San Diego-ish church is accessibility. And because I’m a convert who always thinks about how the church is experienced by those brave enough to walk through the front door, I appreciate that value. Predictable churches are easy to invite to because there are no surprises. (though it is funny that the primary advantage of a non-liturgical approach is predictability…that seems counter intuitive) But Denver is grand, and the cumulative ecclesiology of Fathers is rife with positive unintended consequences.

    Let’s do a Pentecost bonfire next year.

    1. I love the idea of a Pentecost bonfire. We just need to make sure our literally minded children don’t try and rest those burning sticks on one another’s heads…

  2. Sue Ann Finley

    Hmm…I asked Joel in Paris why he wasn’t at work. He told me that Pentecost is a national French holiday. Funny in a non-Christian (mostly) nation. Wonder if the majority of folks know what is being celebrated?

    Thanks for your thoughts, Bronwyn. Always insightful. Sue Ann


    1. That is fascinating! I wonder how churches there (few as they may be) celebrate the day? In South Africa, Good Friday and Easter Monday are always national holidays, and I still miss that every year.

    2. I had the same experience the one time I went to Europe (in the mid-90’s): everything was closed for Ascension Day (which was mid-week)! Who knew!

  3. Bronwyn, Loved your thoughts here. I come from a very evangelical background and when we started adding elements of liturgy to our worship services at my local church, I had to look up the word liturgy first! But I agree with your thoughts. Without leaving a church family, can we find a way to incorporate some of the church calendar? We incorporate secular days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. And Memorial Day. We can find more of Christ in the rhythm of the church calendar. I know it!

  4. As a former Catholic, I spent many years avoiding liturgy wherever I went. It brought back memories of dead, meaningless, sometimes-oppressive roteness. I still have difficulty getting through a Catholic service without serious prayer (and I’d only be there for a major family event). BUT, in the last 10 years of attending “San Diegoish” churches, I’ve come to appreciate the church calendar for its richness in teaching us and memorializing significant moments. This weekend, I was appalled at myself, and then at my church, when I realized Sunday NIGHT that it was Pentecost. Not only had my church never mentioned it, but I had forgotten as well. I’m theologically educated, work in the Christian publishing world… you’d think I’d know what day it was. I agree with many of your thoughts and those of other commenters — the evangelical world can do a better job of incorporating significant milestones from the life of Christ and the church into our annual calendars. It would enrich the people’s worship and sense of being a part of a greater, worldwide Body of Christ. Thanks for taking time to address this idea.

    1. Thanks for this, Kelly. I went to Parochial school and STRONGLY resented any hint of “mass” when I became a regular church attender. But then my own introduction to liturgy as something beautiful and instructive came in college when I started to going to a small Anglican church…. And something beautiful happened 🙂 And so now we add this to the LONG list of things it would be lovely to talk about if/when we ever get to meet in person!

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  6. I followed your link to Alastair’s compendium and am fairly sure I disagree with him about “single outpourings,” not his term, but implied in his description. It sounds to me as though the call to individuals to step “further out and further in” through personal baptisms in the Holy Spirit is missing in your church. As it was missing in mine. I had to step out of the warm and temperate church I was attending into the new Pentecost that was being poured out on two other churches in the city—one was Anglican and the other United Church (like United Methodist)—the beginning of the charismatic renewal in Toronto that would spread across Canada, even into Roman Catholic congregations. The New Testament became less mysterious and had more impact on my personal life as I began to have experiences like the early Christians. Although I was thoroughly churched: baptized, taught, and pillar-fashioned, I needed to make a life confession before the Holy Spirit could have freedom through me. I lived in that neo-Pentecostal summer for almost nine years before God moved me into my colourful Roman Catholic autumn (20 years) and the long winter of our family’s illnesses (24 years) where formal church services, mostly Anglican, became fewer then farther between. The astonishing spring of my learning about God’s creation of the human ear and how that knowledge of the origins of behaviour must be incorporated into all church’s understanding of our ability to live Christian lives is in bloom.

    1. Laurna – I am curious to hear more about what you mean by “personal baptisms in the Holy Spirit”. What a fascinating road you have been on! My own introduction to the Faith was in a pentecostal church, and then my college years were in an Anglican church (where I went to Seminary). It has been interesting (and wonderful) to know that even in these very diverse traditions with very different language about and practices of the Holy Spirit – He was still active and sovereign in believers’ hearts across the world and throughout different traditions. I do think we do a better job of paying Him heed in some circumstances, though!

      1. Personal Baptisms in the Holy Spirit
        Everyone I knew in the denominations my natal family spent time in as Dad’s job changes moved us from place to place had their roots in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Salvation Army, United Presbyterian, United Methodist, Anglican, or Episcopal churches. My parents, my dad’s parents, and many of my mother’s nine brothers and sisters with their spouses were devout Christians; not the “go-to-church-on-Sunday-for appearances” type. Pentecostals were not in that loop in the 1940s and 1950s when I was growing up. They were regarded as dangerously unintellectual and inappropriately emotional; self-control was highly valued. “Dignity” almost equated with “godliness” among these people. My search for an independent faith was a passionate, intellectual effort to find Truth. I brought the formidable Christian teaching of my upbringing to the academy with an intensity that raised eyebrows. In my second year a friend told me Canadians didn’t behave that way; I learned to tone down the “American” style of debate. I was a “Greek” of the colloquium pitted against the scholastic traditions of the European monastics. I also was having “spiritual experiences” and colossal failures; I was a spiritual person who wasn’t “getting it right” in some ways.

        When the Pentecostal couple across the hall from our apartment (most U of T students lived at home and took public transport to the university) befriended my mother, I could not square their social classiness and dignity with the terminology they used. My mother’s hand was slammed in a car door; every bone should have been broken and the hand horribly bruised. Gwen opened the door, took Mum’s hand in both of hers, and “pled the blood of Jesus” on her injured hand. There was no injury!!! I saw it that evening and she had complete mobility and not a mark. My mother, who was very spiritually sensitive in some ways, knew next to nothing about spiritual healing. She was thrilled at what she was learning. And she was in great need, which I was too self-involved to notice. I was profoundly suspicious and felt very threatened by her new friends; I was barely polite to them.

        I did not encounter Pentecostalism again until I returned from touring Europe for four months after I graduated. My dad gave me a copy of Dave Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade. Once I had gotten into it I was entranced. I finished it hiding in the bathroom so my apartment mate would not see me sobbing uncontrollably. It was my first clue that any contemporary humans had contact with God like the apostles. Then I thought about Gwen and wondered what I had missed. The kind of Divine guidance I knew about was genuine, but spread thinly and held together with lots of reasoning — and rationalization. This man simply prayed with spectacular results. I wanted to know God that way, not just in the way of the “temperate” Christians of the careful morals and generous hospitality. A few weeks later, listening to a church group talking to one another about their problems I embarrassed myself by suddenly bursting into tears, “Everyone’s talking about their problems but no one has any solutions. Isn’t Christianity supposed to provide solutions?” The woman sitting next to me said she knew someone I needed to see.

        A couple of weeks later I found myself on the shabbiest couch in a church office I had ever seen, pouring my woes out to an Anglican priest who listened to me for four hours. At hour 3, I fretted about the time. “I could be listening to you or doing something less important,” he said. I was stunned. No one had ever cared to listen to me. To argue theories and viewpoints, yes. But not to hear me. Then, he told me about how the Holy Spirit had come with new power into his life and completely turned his ministry around. One Monday, he had tried to resign, but his Bishop told him to go home and read Acts and pray with his wife before he would accept the resignation. By Wednesday, June had started speaking in tongues when saying prayers with the children, a phenomenon she didn’t recognize. She told Fr, Ron before the kids did; he sent her to the new pastor (Presbyterian) he had met at a meeting recently who had come into his own Holy Spirit baptism in the US before taking a pulpit in Toronto (Full Gospel). These were people with plenty of academic training and dignity; but they were also gracious and loving without having illusions about human frailty. By Thursday, Fr, Ron felt called to fast. On Sunday he preached a sermon and several people were converted to Jesus and a man started speaking in tongues. Fr. Ron referred him to June, as he still had not had that experience. In the next four years, 400 people committed their lives to Christ, several committed to full-time ministry, and all kinds of physical and psychological healings happened; hundreds of people showed up for the Wednesday prayer meeting. The congregation doubled its membership. WOW!!! I wanted in. And, longer story short, I did come in through the low door of humility by making a life confession. I was no longer afraid of Jesus. I became a significantly different person and gradually came into some of the kinds of experiences written about in the New Testament. My apartment mate, who at first was horrified in her Presbyterian soul by the strange doings I reported to her, was speaking in tongues before I did! Then, her brother. Then, my parents.

        After my marriage, we lived in Arkansas and I was stunned to discover real, traditional Pentecostals no longer looked for the sort of life I had longed for and found. If you “come into the Baptism” and prove it by speaking in tongues ONCE, you can slide into the warm and temperate climate of a church that does not expect more of its parishioners than the Protestant and Anglican churches I had grown up in. Yikes! I saw a similar effort among Roman Catholics, after I became one, to minimize the Life in the Spirit, reminding everyone that the Holy Spirit comes at baptism, including infant baptism. Surely. No argument there. But if you want to walk with the apostles, as an adult you must get down to business and claim all that is available to you as the disciples did after Jesus “ascended into Heaven.” Praying in hiding for 40 days will work wonders. Even praying in the evening for an hour for two weeks changed me. The Catholics are terrified of people hearing God directly, however. I finally had to withdraw from that arc of the circle. My experience of following the Holy Spirit has been of life lived on some kind of edge, not only with enormous challenges and mistakes and failures but with incredible — I mean really and truly incredible — answers. Not only in the yes-answers but also in the no-answers. Miracles. Chains of miracles. Heartbreak. Heart healing. The endless miracle of Jesus.

      2. Wow laurna. Reading that gives me chills, just like reading ‘the heavenly man’ did. Thank you so much for sharing your story: it gives me much to think about!

  7. I totally get this!! I’m in Northern California, and I know what you are talking about with the seasons…and I also get what you mean about church too! I had attended a church that didn’t observe the different “seasons” for most of my life, and Advent and Pentecost, etc. are all new to me. It has been interesting.

  8. Brownwyn,
    I learned more about Pentecost from reading your post. Thank you! I attend an evangelical church with no formal liturgy but in the past several years, we have observed or at least recognized Lent…and we always recognized the month leading up to Christmas….in either format, we need God’s Spirit to enliven us and our worship 🙂 Nice to meet you 🙂

  9. I just tonight read your piece about Pentecost, and I’d love to share something with you akin to a Pentecost bonfire that was done one Pentecost Sunday when I was in Portland at a cousin’s church.
    I am on vacation on the northern OR coast right now…home in mid-July. We can talk then. Susan

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