Sometimes I wonder how I made it through six different academic institutions and ended up with numerous degrees. I say that simply because each September I dreaded returning to the classroom. Perhaps I needed a more positive attitude, but I found the transition from lazy-hazy to early-to-bed, early-to-rise very tough to take.
Well, September is traditionally “back to school” month (although in some parts of our country, it was last month) for students and their parents. For many adults, it is “back to work” in a sense, with more structure and intensity after a summer of easygoing days, vacation trips, and more leisure activities than normal.
At first blush the annual transition seems like pure drudgery. “Back to the salt mines,” we used to say when we were kids.
But in a way it is a new beginning, something that has long been reflected in many cultures.
The Byzantine Empire set its new year’s day as Sept. 1, and that date is still the beginning of the ecclesiastical year in Byzantine churches. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is always around this time of year. Many cultures based in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrated the harvest in a special way at this time of year: My mind goes to Oktoberfest in Munich. Closer to home are the Thanksgiving holidays in Canada (in October) and here in the United States (in November). It is a time to thank God for the fruits of our labor, confident that we have a storehouse of produce and renewed energy to get us through another long winter.
New beginnings are often challenging but also exciting and energizing. It is one of the unique aspects of being human, created as we are in the very image and likeness of God, that we spend our lives in our common home, creating and recreating from the “stuff” that God has generously given. In this we find our humble place in this great world. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, is clear about this:
Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:7–9)
Let’s be very grateful to God, then, for the ways we have grown this past year — in work, in school, in the things we have discovered in our freer moments and vacations. As we sometimes make New Year’s resolutions in January, let us resolve to put to good use, for our growth as Christians and for the good of others, the “harvest” that is the fruit of our labors.
And let’s be thankful that all the experience and knowledge we are accumulating will provide for us throughout the fall and winter — in the spiritual gift of wisdom — to help us live in peace with one another and to enable and inspire us to make the world a holier place.