Without a doubt, autumn has always been my favorite season of the year. As a young child, I remember walking home from school, mesmerized with the appearance of the trees flaunting their radiant yellow, flaming red, and vibrant orange leaves. I would run excitedly into the house to tell my mother, “Go out and look at the beautiful color of the trees!” As the leaves began to fall in abundance to the ground, my siblings and I would spend hours stomping around in the leaves to hear their crunching underneath our feet.
This past week marked the beginning of another autumn journey. Already I am seeing Facebook pictures and videos of vibrant fall colors in the northern part of the country. But here in South Alabama, not! The only hints of any change in color are a slight tinge of orange-red trying to burst forth in the dogwood leaves and a light orange color on the magnolia pods. But as the temperatures are dropping, I know the trees will burst forth with God’s autumn portrait soon.
Now that I am in my “autumn years,” the season of autumn has become much more than stomping around in the leaves. It has become a contemplative journey as I sit and gaze at the majestic tree itself, the brilliant colors, of the leaves, and the graceful dancing of the leaves as they fall to the ground.
One of my favorite autumn meditations is to sit on a bench near the lake in front of a gigantic oak tree full of yellow leaves. As autumn begins, the tree continues to hold its leaves. It draws me into God’s presence, without words, without thoughts, and without the need to justify the time sitting and gazing on this awesome icon of God’s beauty. The tree reminds me of my vow of stability. Rooted in the trunk and ground of God’s love and supported by each branch, I see the tree as our community, each Sister living faithfully for the love of each other and for all those they serve.
Later in the season, as I sit and watch the leaves dance to the ground, I am reminded of my vow of conversion. Just as the leaves freely “let go”, I ponder all the “let go” leaves of my life. I am called to reflect on the turning points in my life. What are my areas of darkness? How faithful have I been to serving my community? How vibrant are my colors? How do I need to grow into the Tree of Life I am called to be? As each leaf, each imperfection, falls to the ground and dies, I know that this barren time will invite me to die to old ways and birth new possibilities for inner growth.
The following quote from one of my favorite books, The Circle of Life, (Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB and Joyce Rupp, OSM, Sorin Books, 2005, pg. 166, 168) describes autumn as a wonderful metaphor for transformation:
[Autumn] stands as an epiphany to the truth that all things are passing and even in the passing there is beauty…Autumn is a wonderful metaphor for the transformation that takes place in the human heart each season…Autumn speaks of connection and yearning, wisdom and aging, transformation and surrender, emerging shadows, and most of all, mystery.
The Tree of Glorious Light on which I gaze each autumn reminds me of the following words from St. Benedict:
What…is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life. (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 19-20).
This Tree of Love reveals Jesus’ Paschal Mystery to me as the color of my leaves change with the dailiness and seasons of my life to become the Tree of Love that I am called to be.
While I was writing this blog, I came across a beautiful haiku by Patricia Leyko Connelly, a Benedictine Oblate of Weston Priory in Vermont.
That sacred moment
When humble leaves, red and gold,
Say yes, and let go!
Leaves fall at my feet
Another sacred season
Learning to let go.
Patricia Leyko Connelly
By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB