There’s a hillside of trees near our home and showers of leaves cascade across the fields where squirrels dash in and out of the undergrowth and above lines of birds head south. Wonderful.
The Fall is starting.
I realise this is very much a northern hemisphere phenomenon and it is only in certain parts of the the Northern states of America it is called the Fall.
Whatever its name I just delight in this time of year. So it comes as a surprise that so many others don’t seem to have the same experience. They might talk of the evenings drawing in and having to close the curtains earlier. Others may regret the departure of summer.
I struggle with this. I can’t see autumn as a season of decline. It’s a gathering-in time. For example, I noticed the day after our Harvest service a local farmer was out late into the evening with a vast machine hoeing and shaping the soil so it would be ready for the next seeding.
Autumn is the start of both the ecclesiastical and educational year. Last year’s students are this year’s newly-accredited ministers. The exam results of August have transformed pensive worriers into travellers to new places and time for meeting new people. From toddlers to teenagers autumn is a start or at least a fresh step into the future.
So autumn is a time of contrasts. It is a time when new events start; old familiar meetings recommence; children move into new classes and students arrive in the city. It is a time of energy and renewal yet at the same time there is change, decay, less light, collecting in the fruit and putting away what we could only use in summer.
A FRIENDLY TREE
When we first took over the garden of our home in Bath we planted a silver birch tree in the front garden. It was a slender plant; no higher than a few feet and for a time it looked like it would not survive. After twenty years growth it dominated the garden and its progress through the seasons has watched over the many comings and goings, hellos and goodbyes in the street. I used to watch as the tree changed from the bareness in winter through the bright buds of green of spring into the soaring beauty of summer. Each autumn it became a glory of orange, tan, yellow and gold. For me it was its best season.
But as I celebrated its glory I knew that when the colder nights finally started each morning around its base there would be another fall of leaves which would have to be swept up with irritation.
Joyce Rupp, a writer and religious sister in the USA points out the Fall’s dominant theme is ‘goodbye’. It is a time when what is over needs to be let go; what was glorious has had its day; what was full of vigour is now being stripped bare; what was full of colour and life will become empty. And if there is any life it will be going on hidden, deep behind the bark, deep down in the soil.
We pull the curtains against the chill of shortening days and nights drawing in – but there is still life behind the curtains.
In the gospel according to John Jesus says: very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
For a number of days now in another garden I have been clearing up and trying to tidy before the weather makes it difficult. It has been a time of cutting back, pulling up, tying up and some planting. It has a good feeling. And I realised that what makes it feel good is that I believe in spring. The energy for autumn comes from the future hope of returning life and fresh growth … but autumn cannot be avoided.
And in this new garden we have planted a silver birch.
Joyce Rupp says: “every autumn reminds me of my vulnerability”.
She is right. There are always farewells, closures, tidying-ups, letting-goes and fallow times in our faith and life. But they are only one season. They are as much a preparation for the future as a farewell to the present. Rupp explores these ideas further in her book: Praying our Goodbyes.
AN AUTUMNAL MYTH
And one story in the Bible in particular speaks of our vulnerability. It is that of Adam and Eve. They were warned about what they could not cope with but in childish petulance thought they knew better and over-reached themselves. What the God of the first garden meant for their protection they treated as unnecessary guardianship. They did not know their limitations.
Those first chapters of Genesis some say describe the Fall of Adam. I am not content with that description. There was more going on than that. The story did not end with the removal of the first garden apprentices into the wilderness. The care and nurture of God the Gardener followed them.
The Fall began the long trek toward something wonderful. Life in all its fullness. A creation renewed. A new Adam. A glory in the mists of regret and uncertainty. The completeness of Christ for our brokenness.