Summer’s solstice has ended and October’s light gives us a chance for new perspective.
Even as that light brings a clarity to my thinking, it also foreshadows what the Apostle Paul characterized as “the partial passing away.” The passing away of much that seemed permanent but was only partial has been accelerated in this world where what we thought was built to last is actually an illusion.
The One who sits on the throne in The Revelation given to Saint John announces “Behold I make all things new!” We do well to look to how nature’s patterns echo that promise. Summer’s excesses are pared down as her days wane, and just as the harvest is gathered in, so we have need to gather up what the waning year has shown us. Most of our days are consumed with the now. What was fullness to us, what seemed so complete, was only the partial, for as Paul put it, “now we see through a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face.”
How can we be shed of that? Autumn forces us to confront in nature’s shedding of her clothes an ending that bespeaks a new beginning and the promise of the complete. As the poet Keats writes in his poem, To Autumn, “Thou hast thy music too.” How we need to stop and listen to it!
Even as we wind the back roads and circumnavigate the high places on pilgrimages to glimpse the colors of autumn leaves, we know they’ll soon be tossed by the wind. In a flurry of color, the trees will release their foliage without hesitation. For us this seems the dreaded end. But, we see only the partial.
As a child looking out the picture windows at my home, I would watch the trees on our front lawn in their fall litany. The leaves would change from green to yellow. Finally, the day would arrive in late October when my brother and I, rakes in hand, would pile the brown leaves on our lawn while the air hung heavy with the incense of burning leaves in our neighborhood. The smoke would send its signals heavenward, as if we needed to let the Creator know we knew winter was soon upon us. But the falling leaves were not indiscriminately sacrificed. They met their end as a gift to the very earth that gave them life.
As Lewis Thomas the biologist and writer reminds us, “we have always had a strong hunch about our beginnings, thus we took the word for earth, humus, and came to know ourselves as human” and one might add, hopefully humble ones at that.
It is in these patterns of autumn that we can see our own life patterns and humbled we must be. As a pastor and hospice chaplain I am a witness every day to the truth that “to every thing there is season.” Our souls need and require this time of gathering in. As nature knows her time has come to settle in, we should know by now the sign when that fall morning arrives a little sharper and we greet with gladness the woodpile that mom remembered to have stacked up beside the house. And so we build the fire, we sip the cider, and we settle in so all can be made complete.
The Rev. Bernard Mason is pastor of Mann-Mize Memorial United Methodist Church and chaplain for Heartland Hospice.