Seasons of Life: a word from Parker Palmer on our guiding metaphors

At the recommendation of a good friend, I re-read this Parker Palmer’s brief, but powerful, book, Let Your Life Speak over the past couple months. There is so much packed into this little book. Near the end, in a chapter entitled “There is a Season,” Palmer outlines a metaphor for life based around seasons, expounding on what it might mean to have seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall in our lives. Here is Palmer’s introduction, which I found helpful in itself.

Seasons is a wise metaphor for the movement of life, I think. It suggests that life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real. The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all—and to find in all of it opportunities for growth.

If we lived close to nature in an agricultural society, the seasons as a metaphor and fact would continually frame our lives. But the master metaphor of our era does not come from agriculture—it comes from manufacturing. We do not believe that we ‘grow’ our lives—we believe that we ‘make’ them. Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech: we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love….

If we accept the notion that our lives are dependent on an inexorable cycle of seasons, on a play of powers that we can conspire with but never control, we run headlong into a culture that insists, against all evidence, that we can make whatever kind of life we want, whenever we want it. Deeper still, we run headlong into our own egos, which want desperately to believe that we are always in charge.

We need to challenge and reform these distortions of culture and ego—reform them toward ways of thinking and doing and being that are rooted in respect for the living ecology of life. Unlike ‘raw material’ on which we make all demands, this ecology makes demands on us even as it sustains our lives. We are here not only to transform the world but also to be transformed.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), 96-97.

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