Living in Season
May 14, 2024

Sylvie Vanhoozer’s Art of Living In Season is a beautiful book. Vanhoozer’s meditations on the art of living are organized by the church calendar, and so guide the reader to live in ways appropriate to each season of the year – the “art of living in season” of her title.
She connects each liturgical season with customs and natural cycles from her native Provence, and so offers something akin to the old Puritan tradition of “spiritualizing” human life and vocations. Advent trains us in the art of waiting, Lent in the art of pruning, Easter in the art of rejoicing, and ordinary time takes us to the land, the table, the garden, the market, and inspires meditations on children, elders, and homecoming. In each chapter, Vanhoozer (who shares with her husband Kevin a penchant for alliteration) invites us to pause, ponder, and pray, asking penetrating questions and offering creative suggestions about how each of us can play our part as everyday saints.
One of the book's primary motifs is drawn from a unique Provençal Christmas custom:
At Advent, santons – “little saints” appear in the shoebox-sized manger scenes, or crèches, that are placed in the dining or living rooms of people’s homes just as they have been done since the nineteenth century. These santons are clay figurines, just three inches tall, painted colorfully in period dress. Each carries a simple gift for the baby Jesus, products from their own terroir, that distinct local place that nurtures their growth. These crèche scenes do not so much represent the story of Christmas night as restage it, setting the birth of Jesus in the terroir of the people of Provence (5).
Santons represent the vocations and culture of Provence, but simultaneously recall the Christ child. Though He doesn’t appear in the crèche scenes, Jesus “renders these clay figurines of plain villagers something special: he makes them into little saints, set apart to serve him and his story.” Through these figures, Jesus Himself “hallows the land” and permeates the seasons and lives of the residents, so events of the distant past that took place in a distant land are planted and flourish in the native soil of Provence (6). Vanhoozer’s book follows these santons on their quest for Jesus through the entire year, showing how each season provides unique possibilities for serving the Lord Jesus.
Vanhoozer, a botanical artist, illustrates the book with vibrant pictures of flowers, leaves, herbs, and vegetables relevant to particular seasons. Each chapter is also adorned with an illustration of one of the santons – a shepherd for Advent, a Romani woman to represent the art of hospitality in Epiphany, a woman carrying soup for the table fellowship of ordinary time.
For instance: Vanhoozer's chapter on Lent begins with a picture of a branch from a thorn bush. In Provence, Lent is a time for pruning and the santon is the knife-sharpener who furnishes the pruning tools of Lent. She asks us to pause to pray over Israel’s time in the wilderness, and suggests we ask ourselves about our own skill at pruning: “Am I a good companion knife-grinder? Can I help others to self-prune” (81). She reminds us that the hunger pangs of fasting “keep people of faith dependent on the Giver of all that grows” (82).
Chapter by chapter, Vanhoozer makes the reader slow down to follow the rhythm of the liturgy, which is the rhythm of creation, for Redeemer and Creator are one. The quiet, meditative style of this lovely book captures the temporal texture of human life.

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