This summer, I made my first trip to Europe since 1984. One of the things I signed up to do was a food tour of the Marais District of Paris. My guide Catherine took us on a circuit through a small area of a neighborhood showing us the best in many food categories. (I now know a great croissant from a merely good one.) One of our stops was a cheese shop. Probably half the cheese sold there was goat cheese. Catherine explained that in Paris, there is a season for goat cheese. This was a new idea for me. If I went to the cheese collection at my local Ralph's shopping center, I could find goat cheese year round. There was no question as to whether it was "in season" or not. But then Catherine's description of the season really took me by surprise. Goat cheese season ran from Easter to All Saints' Day, because that was when the goats were giving birth and giving milk for their young. What surprised me about this was not how related it was to animal birth, but how the references were to the Christian calendar.
During my first trip to Europe, I had traveled there under the impression on the whole that we were in a more secular society. But some clear exceptions had arisen. Like when we were on the bus, and the tour guide made a reference to "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." There was no overt piety to his statement. He may or may not have been personally religious. This was just how facts were stated in that part of the world.
Europe often challenges me with questions. As much as statistics might paint one picture of secularization, Europe has me seeing that such statistics, even when accurate, paint a distorted picture. (I think of Dr. Montgomery's joke about the statistician who drowned in a lake with an average depth of three feet.) However many people might go to church, a society might still bear strong markings of its Christian past. And markings that have deep meaning.
Perhaps having a Christian calendar in memory makes people more aware of the fact that "to everything there is a season." They are willing to let go of goat cheese when it is no longer the season. Then there is room for something else. Our "always on" culture often means putting up with mediocrity. Wanting to have whatever we want when we want it means losing the palate to know when something is good. There might be an abundance of riches to be discovered if we can let go of our insistence on having what we want at our own convenience. Catherine was delighted to see her beloved goat cheese again. "I've missed this so much," she said. Seasons are not so noticeable in Southern California where I live. I love the convenience of not having to dig my car out of the snow. But without any kind of a calendar, we face monotony. The Christian church has been wise in retaining hold of seasons.