Fall has arrived, and with it (in many nations) a new “school year.” The traditional academic year has been modified in various locales, but for most the end of summer and beginning of fall herald the beginning of the latest season of learning.
The irony is, of course, that even those long “graduated” from any personal learning goals remain subject to this academic cycle. The “back to school” advertising is pervasive, and simultaneous “commencements” such as football and new television programming also reinforce that sensation that something familiar is returning for a fresh beginning.
Families with children in traditional schools are anchored in this academic cycle. It is so intimately an aspect of life that the world would be disorienting without it. Fall, winter, spring and summer—each with their unique traits and holidays—create an ongoing cycle that is as comfortingly familiar as it is renewed and invigorating.
This is particularly true in families such as my own where my wife and son teach in public and private schools, respectively. We also have children embracing the challenges and potential rewards of homeschooling. Yet, even after my immediate family retires from teaching and our youngest grandchild (due to be born in less than a month) has received her college diploma . . . the academic cycle will still be part our lives.
As Christians, the significance of this annual cycle is reinforced by the celebration of the Church Year. It begins in the winter, on the first Sunday of December, with the season of Advent. Then we are carried delightfully through the momentous “white water” events in the life of Jesus Christ until the current slows and we drift serenely through the long season of Pentecost which spans the summer months.
As I wrote above, this cycle is wonderfully familiar and remarkably new. It is a gift of God. And, like all divine beneficences, the Adversary desires to corrupt its meaning and destroy its value. C.S. Lewis addresses this expertly in The Screwtape Letters, where the tempter is advising a fellow devil to make his “patient” bored with the recurring nature of this pattern. In the passage which follows, Screwtape is complaining how God (whom he refers to as “the Enemy”) has so skillfully balanced creation to meet the needs of his children.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable.
But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before. . . . We pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty.
“Absolute novelty,” can never satisfy the human heart. Ultimately, if each moment is new and possesses no connection with the past, we would be living in chaos. Sadly, some people do choose that path. But, as for me and my household (as Joshua once alluded), we choose to bask in the rich cycle of life that God has designed for us. And, if your own life has been short on predictability, stability and joy, I commend this choice to you as well.