“The chimes begin again … spaced and peaceful and serene, with that quality of autumn always in bells.” William Faulkner
The chimes are swinging on our back porch, ringing in the breezes of autumn, reminding me it is the season to let go, and reach out.
I love the fall. It is the season of my soul, when the slanting sun makes rich patterns of shadow in our yard, and in me.
I wake these mornings to see the last leaves fallen overnight from the pecan tree. A quiet circle of brown and green settles on the grass, like a wreath of memory for the fertile months past.
Why is it that autumn touches me so deeply? It may be in part because I am autumn child, October born. Autumn touches me also with nostalgia for the color and scents I remember from childhood. My boyhood Canadian town was dubbed the “Maple City.” In the fall the street we lived on was like a tunnel covered with a canopy of blazing maples. Like an impressionistic painter, autumn turned that small, ordinary market town, set in flat brown sugar beet farmlands, into a place of glory.
In some deep archetypal way the slanting autumn sun and shadows, rich and melting, slide sideways into the hollows of my soul, the part that feels both beauty and pain so deeply – not one without the other, but both together, as fullness and loss, death and hope – walking side by side.
The writer Parker Palmer describes autumn as a season both of exhilarating beauty, and deepening melancholy, as days become shorter and trees shed their glory. He writes that the “hopeful notion that living is hidden within dying is surely enhanced by the visual glories of autumn. What artist would ever have painted a season of dying with such a vivid palette if nature had not done it first? How shall we understand autumn’s testimony that death and elegance go hand in hand?”
It is surely a biblical reality. “The summer is over, the harvest past, and we are not saved” is the prophet Jeremiah’s dirge. That is the sad note of lostness and losing. But from Jesus, our dying and risen Lord, comes this joyful promise: “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.”
Letting go of attachments is always hard. But my own experience, over and over, is that beyond loss, however painful, God has had another chapter to write in our lives.
Early this fall we came to a painful decision. In our back yard a large double-trunked elm tree has stood for 20-plus years against a school wall, providing shade and comfort. I painted a watercolor of that tree which hangs in our kitchen. But with the years it had grown old, fragile, cracked, and in danger of falling. So we arranged to have it removed.
That was a hard day. It was like having an old friend cut down and carried away one limb at a time. I grieved its loss, and could hardly look at the empty space left behind.
But the very next day I saw something new. Just beyond the wall was another tree, beautifully shaped, limbs curving upwards to the sky. I had not been able to see it because it was hidden by the large old elm. It was not a replacement, but a gracious surprise!
So I find my soul coming to rest in the goodness of the Gardener of all seasons. In his timing, autumn is not just the tail-end of summer, nor a segue to winter, but a season in its own right, of sun and shadow, of loss and fruit, of soul rest in the God who has been good, and will be all the years long.
Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor.