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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