Let there be order and measure in your own work until your barns are filled with the season’s harvest.
Hesiod, Works and Days
Today is the first day of autumn. Seasons are a gift it has become more difficult to recognize and receive.
As a philosopher I love how Aristotle’s understanding of nature, which is much richer than just plants and animals ‘out there,’ is verified and amplified—if we have eyes to see—in the flow of seasons. A key feature of all that is natural is the ordering toward fulfillment and rest. A machine, on the other hand, simply goes and goes until it runs out of fuel. The difference is significant.
There is a choice before us: do we live like humans, or like machines? Our own nature calls us to something better—to an organic flow wherein each time has its characteristic activity and fulfillment. But we need to recognize this and act accordingly. In another age the structures of life practically demanded that we enact this flow. Today we must be intentional. We need explicitly to stop ourselves from going with another flow, the relentless pattern exemplified by the machine: where there is always more to make, to get, to have.
The flow of nature is that all making and getting is about something deeper. It is about being. It is not about getting more and more done; it is about getting somewhere. Somewhere worth being.
Hesiod suggests that we must work, and work hard. Yet there is always measure and order in this work, because it is work with a clear goal—an end that in some key sense brings it to its conclusion, even if but briefly for now.
Our work can be seen as filling a barn. What a powerful image! A barn might be large, yet not endless. We are tempted to pull down our barn, and build bigger ones. But unto what end? Indeed, this is always the question: unto what end.
Autumn is naturally a time to complete the hard work of summer. We think in terms of wrapping up our projects and tying things down. Winter is not here yet, but that time is coming when nature draws us to stop and rest. Such stopping is not total; in this life it never will be. We should always have an eye for next spring, and the ongoing work of life.
But the gift of the seasons is an opportunity to practice something that we must learn, even and especially amid hard labors. There is a point when the barn is full enough; and our work has brought us to a point that we must stop—lest it overflow its boundaries and flood our life. Like a machine that never stops pumping.
I resolve today to be docile to the meaning of autumn, and all the seasons. And to consider what it will take to fill the barn that I have, and then to turn to the people that are the only reason there is a barn at all. Perhaps we can dance together in that barn; or maybe around it, if it is full.
Image: Eric Sloane (American, 1905-1985). If you are not familiar with the art and writings of Eric Sloane, you are in for a treat. A Reverence for Wood, An Age of Barns, and A Museum of Early American Tools are just a few of my favorites.
Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work in a household.
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