leaves don’t drop

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The thoughts below are some I shared with my congregation and thought perhaps a few of you might enjoy as well.

I love spring and hate to see summer go, but once fall gets here, it’s always my favorite season. The impulse to huddle closer, find something warm to drink, and put on a few more layers always seems right. I hope, even if you’re sad to see summer go that you’re finding at least some solace in the colors and smells and sensations of fall.

Every spring as Easter comes and all the flowers bloom we talk about the connections between the natural world and the gospel. We look at the lilies and the cherry trees and the whole world waking up after a long winter, and we remind ourselves that life comes out of the grip of death.

We don’t tend to talk about the gospel and the natural world as much this time of year. Part of the beauty of fall is its melancholy. Everything’s dying, after all, and that doesn’t feel like very good news. A friend shared a song with me several years ago, though, that changed how I look at fall. It’s by an artist named Carrie Newcomer and the chorus is quite simple:

‘Cause leaves don’t drop they just let go
And make a space for seeds to grow
And every season brings a change
A tree is what a seed contains
To die and live is life’s refrain
 

It’s the first line that caught my ear on a run one fall morning and hasn’t ever really left. Leaves don’t drop. They just let go. I started looking at the leaves around me as I ran that morning. They were lit up in a million different colors, every possible combination of red and orange and yellow and brown and green. And as I ran they were falling all around me. The line from the song got stuck in my head, and I kept thinking about all of these leaves burning so brightly and then letting go, playing their part in the world both in their brightness, and in their falling, and eventually in their rotting and returning to earth, nourishing the life that was to come. The brightness of leaves this time of year has become an image for me of the beauty that can hide in death. And the image of leaves letting go, not just dropping, has become a reminder that there is as much to be said for letting go as there is for growing; we need time for releasing and resting as much as for growing and taking on new life. And, of course, ultimately, these two movements, of death and life, are not so very separate.

As fall begins and we head into this season of busyness and resuming our duties, as we head back to school, literally or figuratively, there’s a lot of pressure to do and be more. I wonder, though, if we might want to take our cue from the leaves and instead have a season of letting go. Perhaps there are burdens or obligations that you need to set down. Maybe your life needs a little bit less in it. Maybe you need a time of being stripped down like the tree limbs in winter. Of course, the hard part of setting down obligations is in the fear of disappointing others, or the fear of letting go of something that is truly valuable. When I get worried about those things, I try to come back to the image of the leaves turning such bright colors. Do they have any idea how beautiful they are, even as they die? Do we have any idea how beautiful it might be when we let go of something we don’t need to be holding? And, of course, leaves falling are always followed by fresh sprouts and blossoms in the spring. Who can say what may sprout in our own lives when we set down what we need carry no longer.

So, my prayer for you this fall is that you find plenty of rest this season, that you revel in the changing leaves, and trust the gospel that tells us that none of us escapes death, but promises that life waits on the other side.

I’ll close with a prayer from The Celtic Wheel of the Year, a lovely book of prayers that offers a week’s worth of prayers for every month of the year. I’ve prayed my way through this book several years in a row. This prayer is the Morning Invocation for Mondays in September. May it be a blessing in your day.

Embracer of all, who held out your arms and joined up the circle of life,
embolden me to believe that my lessening will bring new growth this day.
Embolden me as I cut back the branches and trust the bud will come.
Embolden me as I sweep the leaves and make a pathway through.
Embolden me as I clear a space and allow my autumn work to unfold.
Embolden me as I sit in the silence and let you be the all in all.
For in the pounding of the grain is the sharing of the bread.
In the crushing of the grape is the pouring of the wine.
In the falling of the leaves is the feeding of the roots.
In the disappearing of the creatures is the survival of their kind.
In the cutting of the corn is the new seed that will rise again.
In the dying time and darkness is your promise of hope renewed.
For you have lain in the deathly grip and felt the power of love’s release.
Release in me the power of love as I set out this day.
Release in me your love.
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three things for a quiet, gray Saturday morning

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It’s a quiet, gray Saturday morning here, which is not a bad thing, not at all. It’s a day for curling up and reading. Maybe I’ll see if I can remember how to knit. As we get closer to the arrival of the twins (less than 19 weeks now), these quiet mornings get even more precious.

Three things I’ve enjoyed lately that you might enjoy, too:

This is Martin Bonner is one of the best little films I’ve seen in long time. It’s the story of two middle-aged men rebuilding their lives after failure. It’s also an exploration of friendship, faith, and mercy. It was made by several of our friends, but lest you think I’m grading on a curve, this New Yorker review captures the movie well. It’s available on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon, and it’s slowly coming to theaters around the country. If you’re in Tacoma, it’s showing at The Grand on Tuesday, 9/17.

 

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I just finished this book by Christian Wiman. It’s stunning. The cover says “meditations of a modern believer,” but I don’t think you need to be a Christian for this book to move you. This is one of those that is worth your time if you’re a person. It’s a compilation of reflections Wiman has written over the last seven years as he has lived with an incurable, unpredictable cancer. It is a meditation on the “ongoing delights and demolitions of daily life.” It is water from a rock.

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Then, yesterday, I listened to this interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, a far-from-conventional Lutheran pastor in Denver. It’s funny and sweet and strong. And now I have to add her memoir to my reading list.

 

What have you been reading and hearing and watching lately?

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quick update

Hi friends,

My posting has gotten slower here in the last few months, reflecting some excitement in my personal life. My husband and I learned six weeks ago that we’re expecting twins in January! We’re over the moon and utterly overwhelmed. And, it turns out, early pregnancy is a time of just getting done what has to get done. Apologies for spotty posting here. Beginning with last week, you can find the full text of sermons at the Bethany website, in the section for Worship Services. I’m hoping that this will become a space to write some about books I’m reading and inspiration I run across, but who knows. There are twins coming – anything could happen.

– Sarah

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The Way of Jesus: Healing

Sunday we started a fresh series on the way of Jesus. For much of the summer we’ll be trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and going back to the basics with gospel stories from Luke. This week we read Luke 7:1-10, the story of Jesus healing a Roman official’s servant, and we wondered about how healing works in the real world. Thoughts after the jump.

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Lady Wisdom

Last week was Trinity Sunday and the lectionary handed us Proverbs 8, a gorgeous poem that describes divine Wisdom. Thoughts after the jump.

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write this down

We finished the book of Revelation this week with a lovely section from the 21st chapter:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.

Thoughts after the jump…

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the power of praise

We continued with Revelation on Sunday, with a passage from Revelation 5 that revolves around praise. Before all is said and done, all of creation joins in praise. Their praise, though, has a pretty surprising object–a slaughtered lamb. This text is an encouragement for everyone who finds themselves pulling for the underdog. Thoughts after the jump. And, as usual, you can find a podcast of this sermon over at the Bethany website. It’ll be up later today. Continue reading

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