“What’s your favorite time of year?” I ask a friend as we are walking.
“Fall. I love this time of year! The leaves are changing, it’s getting colder, and the days are growing shorter. I really like the clouds and darkness of fall and winter.”
“I’m just the opposite,” I say. “I dislike fall and always have. I love light and sun, and when it gets dark so early, it’s depressing. Besides, fall was always the time when school started, and as a kid I never wanted to give up the freedom and joy of being outside playing all summer. Summer has always been my favorite season, and I never want it to end.”
It’s not until a few weeks ago during a women’s retreat on Drummond Island that I finally realize why fall is challenging for me. As we spend the weekend pondering the seasons of our lives, I begin to understand that for me, fall is a time of change and movement, and I often struggle with transitions.
During the summer, nature explodes with growth, light, energy, warmth, and fruitfulness. Fall, by contrast, is the time when crops have been harvested, fields are plowed under, leaves fall to the ground, and the earth becomes fallow. Wood is chopped, silos are filled, warm clothes come out, storm windows replace screens, and we anticipate hunkering down for the winter. What has been given in such abundance is now taken away.
No wonder I hate fall! I don’t like to let go of summer, contemplate six months of darkness and isolation, and be forced inside my house, let alone inside my heart, where God waits to teach me patience, hope, and the value of rest and growth.
We are asked to find a few special leaves. From a maple tree I pick three leaves that have not yet made their way to the ground. One is green, one is half green and half red, and one is red. These leaves reflect not only the progression of fall but the letting go that characterizes the spiritual life.
I am not ready to yield fully to God. I want to live life on my own terms and remain green forever. At the same time I yearn to align myself with the fullness of life that God offers. I grudgingly allow myself to turn partly red but keep one foot firmly planted in the life I desire.
I remember John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I turn a brilliant red, offering myself completely to God’s cycle of life and death. As I prepare to die to all that prevents me from becoming who God created me to be, my color is a witness to the obedience and trust that guide my life’s journey. “The summer ends, and it is time to face another way.” (Wendell Berry)
The earth prepares with me. Squirrels hoard acorns. The coats of animals thicken. Bears gorge themselves as they anticipate the long rest of hibernation. Birds head south, finding their way together. Carved pumpkin faces delight. Children roll in the leaves.
Of course, the word “fall” does not come from a bed of leaves but from the sun. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface determines the change of seasons. As the earth slowly falls away from the sun, the intensity of light lessens. The light then “springs” back in six months.
Finally, there is The Great Letting Go, and I fall, playfully surrendering to the ground, where I lie, waiting to be transformed and ultimately reborn in due season… The losing of my life; surrender; emptiness; melancholy.
Letting go of possessions, children, perfection, youth, dreams, productivity, relationships, addictions, anger, old ways of thinking. Completeness in nature. It’s done for the season.
Gather it in and wait;
Wait for the cold;
Wait for restoration;
Wait for hope;
The ebb and flow of life… the spirituality of fall.
All things pass away.
Free for a few days from the hectic pace of pastoral ministry, I am able to see myself and God more clearly. The clear Friday night sky puts on a stunning display of stars. The Milky Way dazzles, satellites roam high above the earth, the Big Dipper lies low on the horizon, and an occasional plane streaks across the utterly black sky. I haven’t seen a sky like this for 35 years. I recite Psalm 8, which I memorized during Disciple Bible Study many years ago: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
I can’t tear my eyes away from the heavens, claiming the beauty and gifts of the darkness in my own life. “I will love the light, for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” (Og Mandino)
Each morning we go on a prayer walk. We are given a question to ponder, “What do you want Jesus to do for you?”
- A hawk glides through the sky. I, too, long to fly free.
- The wind whistles through the aspen trees. I long to follow the wind of the Holy Spirit.
- The sun is warm. God, I long for the warmth of your love in my life so that I can warm the hearts of others.
- Just as the clear water reflects my own image back to me, so I long to reflect God’s grace back to others.
- I long for the faith of trees firmly rooted in the earth, trees that trust God enough to offer their leaves to death, believing in the new life that will return in the spring.
- I long for Jesus to carry me through periods of dormancy, knowing that God can work through me even when I cannot see it.
- I long to be nimble as the white-tailed deer bounding through the forest, ready always to go where God calls.
- I long to clear out the undergrowth weighing down my spirit so that I can see and smell the flowers.
- I long for the drops of dew that are my tears to be a source of healing and hope for others.
- I long to say goodbye to what no longer matters rather than cling to what I do not need.
- I long to respond to the persistent call, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1b)
Like nature, I am dying to live. The Great Letting Go.