The wisdom of autumn...

For the past few weeks I have been pondering what the
"spirituality" of autumn means? After five weeks of playfully engaging the new liturgical season of Creation, I sensed a gentle nudge to articulate why aspects of Celtic spirituality feed my soul - and how they might become soul food for others, too. One aspect of "listening for the heart beat" of the Lord with a Celtic cadence involves sacramental or incarnational living.

Those in the Community of Northumbria puts it like this: This is a celebration of ordinariness and an earthed humanity. The (Celts) believed that nothing was secular because everything was sacred. Nothing is outside of God’s love and grace. David Adam writes ‘The vision of the Celts was sacramental rather than mystical. They saw God in and through things rather than direct visions. The Celt says we must take time to learn to play ‘The 5 stringed Harp’ = the 5 senses.’ What we hear, see, smell, taste, touch all speaks of God. It is incarnational living as the Apostle John wrote ‘That which we have seen from the beginning’ 1 John. Indeed, the Celts are a creation affirming people for they trust that God created all things good.

There is also a deep sense of "place" in this spirituality - a connection with both the land and the season - that reveals something of the sacred within our encounters with everyday living: Columbanus said: ‘If you wish to understand the Creator, first understand His creation.’ Not pantheism, which is a worshipping of the stones but an affirmation of the wonder of the One who made the stones. Not New Age extremes that substituted Mother Earth for Father God but love for, respect for the physical environment. They were aware of the Cross over Creation. That God was to redeem the whole created order. This was seen in the quiet care of all living things and a special affinity with animals that preceded Francis of Assissi. They had a strong sense of place and knew the importance of the Land, of roots and identity. They spoke of thin places, holy ground. Many of the problem spots in our world are all about land, roots, identity, holy places. So I've been listening for clues about what the One who is Holy might be saying to us who live in this time and this unique place.

One very helpful guide for me has been Christine Valters Painter, a Benedictine Oblate who writes at the Abbey of the Arts (check it out @ http://abbey She suggests that one clue about the spirituality of autumn can be found in the equinox: a time when the sun rests above the Equator and both day and night are equal. It would seem, therefore, that one of "autumn's gifts reflect this balance between two energies: the invitation to relinquish and to harvest." 

Autumn is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender -- what no longer serves us or what gets in the way of being present to the holiness of each moment. Autumn also invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruit of the seeds of dreams we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension, we are reminded that in our letting go, we also find abundance. (

We had our first frost last night. Winter is clearly coming, but today will be filled with sun so things aren't quite ready to shift or let go yet. They will soon, but not today. Holding these truths in tension - the surrendering and the harvesting - hit me during worship yesterday when I remembered that while I was feasting in the bounty the blessings of St. Francis, my Muslim cousins were in prayer crying out "Eid Mubarak" while my Jewish cousins had just completed Yom Kippur. In Islam, Eid al-Adha is a festival of sacrifice commemorating Father Ibrahim's willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to Allah. (see http:// In Judaism,  Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, the conclusion of 10 days of reflection and penitence marking the start of a new year of dedication to the Lord. (see http://www. I am feasting while others fast - I am harvesting while others surrender - such is the wisdom of the season and soon it will be otherwise. Fr. Richard Rohr deepened this paradox for me this morning in his daily


I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Jewish revelation of the name of God. As we Christians spell and pronounce it, the word is Yahweh. In Hebrew, it is the sacred Tetragrammaton YHVH (yod, he, vay, and he). I am told that those are the only consonants in the Hebrew alphabet that are not articulated with lips and tongue. Rather, they are breathed, with the tongue relaxed and lips apart. YHVH was considered a literally unspeakable word for Jews, and any attempt to know what they were talking about was “in vain.” As the commandment said: “Do not utter the name of God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). All attempts to fully think God are in vain. From God’s side, the divine identity was kept mysterious and unavailable to the mind. When Moses asked for the divinity’s name, he received only the phrase that translates “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

This unspeakability has long been recognized, but now we know it goes even deeper: formally the name of God was not, could not be spoken at all—only breathed. Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation. Therefore, the one thing we do every moment of our lives is to speak the name of God. This makes the name of God our first and last word as we enter and leave the world.

I have taught this to people in many countries, and it changes their faith and prayer lives in substantial ways. I remind people that there is no Islamic, Christian, or Jewish way of breathing. There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing. There is no rich or poor, gay or straight way of breathing. The playing field is utterly leveled. It is all one and the same air, and this divine wind “blows where it will” (John 3:8). No one can control this Spirit.

When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly—breathe. Exactly as some teachers of prayer say, “Stay with the breath, attend to your breath”—the same breath that was breathed into Adam’s nostrils by this Yahweh (Genesis 2:7); the very breath “spirit” that Jesus handed over with trust on the cross (John19:30) and then breathed on us as shalom, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit all at once (John 20:21-23). And isn’t it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit, and air are precisely nothing—and yet everything?

All of this is taking place at the same time - the surrender and the harvest - a mystery, yes? Think I need to listen to Joni just to go a little deeper and give my brain a rest...

photo credits:  Dianne De Mott


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