I can’t remember who it was, but I know that I have had plenty of moments to ponder those words since relocating from the Queensland capital of Brisbane to the small country community of Barrington, about 6km beyond Gloucester on the road to Walcha, Armidale and beyond.
Encounters through work, in my role as Diocesan Director for Catholic Mission; attending Mass at the local parish of St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gloucester; becoming an active member of the local RSL sub-branch and the local Legacy committee – these have all led me to make new connections and experience flourishing friendships.
Back in Brisbane, I left behind not only a room full of furniture, books, and CDs, but the family of my late wife, a team of colleagues, a tribe of fellow gym enthusiasts, a team of squash mates and a circle of influence that had grown wider during my marriage to Celena. It shrunk significantly after her death in 2017. Our son, Brodie, and Celena are also buried in a lawn cemetery in Mount Cotton. At least the move to NSW brings me closer to our daughter, Amber Rose, who is interred in a similar place, just west of Sydney at Rouse Hill.
As I sit here in The Studio, a self-contained cottage, or granny flat, on the property owned by my parents in Barrington, I ponder those I have left behind, those I have been fortunate to meet in the ensuing weeks and months and consider the distinction between “reasons” and “seasons”.
In the Church calendar, much like the secular calendar we all embrace and follow, seasons are clearly defined. They have a clear beginning and ending: summer, autumn, winter, spring. For Christians, there are the liturgical seasons denoted by colour in the garments worn by the priests or banners hanging in churches, and by the readings and prayers. For sports fans, there is the eager anticipation of kick-off in the footy season; for punters, there is a chance to frock up and bet when racing season arrives in all its indulgent but exhilarating glory.
Whereas seasons could be seen to punctuate our life, reasons offer their own contribution to the story we each are writing. They are the synonyms, homonyms, and antonyms of our vocabulary – some can see an event or an occasion with similar meaning or interpretation, while others can approach the same lifestyle choice – spending money, for instance – with widely varying value systems and thought processes. Sometimes, our reasons for making certain decisions can differ widely. Within a relationship it might be how to discipline children. In families it might be determining where everyone will be at Christmas time. And across entire communities – witness the controversy surrounding the requirements for all citizens to be double vaxxed.
We all have reasons for doing what we do. Unlike the launch of a season of much-anticipated television viewing or the changing hues of leaves in a garden, reasons are not always obvious. I would like to think I have been making the most of my newfound solitude, or the distance from those I left behind in Queensland, but I know my extrovert tendencies still crave the companionship of others. Such personality traits can drive us in ways that may not always be immediately obvious.
As we enter the season of Advent, our homes will become adorned with trees and baubles and lights and perhaps a stable – we are entering the Christmas season. Plans will be made, gift lists will be ticked, groceries will be purchased. Will we, however, be as mindful of the reasons for the choices we make? Will we remain present to those underlying dynamics that can potentially undermine the Christmas day lunch? Can we curb our instinct for self-protection or having our own way and perhaps let go of our need to be where we want to be, to mark Christmas, so as to allow someone else to have their wishes fulfilled?
In my season of grieving, I have always sought ways to keep my family “alive”, at least in the daily moments of my work and play. The rain falling is Celena washing away my self-doubt; a green tree frog sitting on my shoulder is Brodie assuring me that “all will be well, Dad, and all will be well”. Butterflies will always be a sign that Amber Rose is there, guiding me with gentleness, grace, and a lightness of touch. In these moments from nature, I see reasons to go on. I know I am “fearfully and wonderfully made”, that God continues to guide me and that, for now, I am committed to this season here, with my family of birth, doing work that I am passionate about.
The Magi followed a star and brought gifts. They had their reasons. The shepherds heard choirs of angels and responded – they had their reasons. This Christmas, may you find your own reasons for participating in the building of the Kingdom of God and may your season be merry and bright.
David McGovern, Diocesan Director, Catholic Mission, Maitland/Newcastle Diocese