Faith and the leaves...

Winter is just around the corner: you can feel it in the air and see it in the
sky. Those wiser than I note that when we stop, wait and listen to the essence of each season, we are often able to discern the first word of God. Scripture, therefore, is the second word of the Lord- created by God to be the repository of human/holy wisdom - with essential insights for those who seek ye first the kingdom of God. Our appreciation of this eternal truth does not diminish the value of Holy Scripture; rather it enhances its meaning for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Like St. Paul writes at the start of Romans: what can be known about God is plain... because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world God's eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made. (Romans 1: 19-20)

Some of our elders have observed that the passing of autumn into winter teaches us about letting go and the impermanence of all things. Writer Christopher Hill puts it like this: The fall of the year in nature and in the liturgical calendar is a rich and nuanced drama, a perilous and turbulent time, full of conflict, when the seen and unseen worlds come together. The dynamics of the fall of the year have the sweep of a great symphony or an epic poem. From the vast conflict of light and dark, the greater powers of night and quiet emerge."  He then invites us to: "Savor the word — fall. At this time, we watch the fall of the reign of summer, a great triumph that moves deep into a darkness full of danger, promise, and mystery. We pass through a wild night of apparitions into a quiet that grows deeper until it is infused with the lights of candles and stars. Time narrows down until it comes to its turning point, as all creation holds its breath in the silent night and waits for the entry of something new and unimaginable. (Holidays and Holy Nights)

Parker Palmer builds on an inspiration from Thomas Merton: "There is in all visible things... a hidden wholeness." He goes on to say: In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of the “hidden wholeness.” In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other – they cohere in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, as my body needs to breathe in as well as breathe out. But in a culture that prefers the ease of either-or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together. We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter, and the Faustian bargains we make fail to sustain our lives. (essay on the seasons)

Yesterday, as we were raking leaves, Dianne uncovered a prayer rock under the debris marked "faith."  A short time later their mates - hope and love - were uncovered, too. There is humor and humility in abundance if we're willing and able to trust the "hidden wholeness." Richard Rohr wrote about that this morning, too.

All of us are much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves. Don’t get caught in “my” story, my hurts, my agenda. It’s too small. It’s not the whole you, not the Great You. It’s not the great river. It’s not where life is really going to happen. No wonder the Spirit is described as “flowing water” and as “a spring inside you” (John 4:10-14) or, as it states at the end of the Bible, as a “river of life” (Revelation 22:1-2). Your life is not really about “you.” It is part of a much larger stream called God. The separate self is finally an illusion for those who stay on the journey of prayer.

I believe that faith might be precisely that ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover. It is a process that we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow. That takes immense confidence in God, especially when we’re hurting. Usually, I can feel myself get panicky. I want to make things right, and right now! I lose my ability to be present, and I go up into my head and start obsessing. I try to push or even create the river—the river that is already flowing through me.

Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust thatthere is a river. The river is flowing; we are in it. The river is God’s providential love—so do not be afraid. We have been given the Spirit (Luke11:13). Without this awareness of the always flowing river, without a sense that we are supported, we will all succumb to fear and control mechanisms. Why wouldn’t we? To stay in God’s holding means that I have to stop taking full hold of myself, at least to some degree. I have to be able to hold a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension. Paradoxically, this leads to a much more calm and content way of “being in control”! Now all the frenzy and fear is gone.

Driving back and forth to Maryland this past month - three different times to sit and simply "be" with my father as he moved from life into death - I was blessed by the abundant colors in the autumn trees. They were richer in color and lasted longer than I recall from previous years. And each journey South let me see the colors mature until the leaves fell off and were replaced by the stark grey of winter's beginning. And each time it seemed as if my eyes were praying - not my head or my heart - just my eyes - taking in God's wisdom and assurance. I have prayed with icons before, but never with God's first word in nature with such vigor. Palmer concludes his reflections on the message of autumn with a truth that resonates profoundly for me: Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life. If I try to “make” a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well. But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole.

And now it is time to go and rake some more leaves.
photo credits:  Dianne De Mott

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