Autumn is upon us. You’ve caved and turned the heating on, left the house only to come rushing back for your coat, noticed the warm air escaping and cold air biting your lungs. You’ve clocked the leaves, colouring, wrinkling and falling; seen kids wander towards the mulch for a play. You’ve started thinking, maybe even talking, about Christmas. It’s eleven weeks, which is both ages and no time at all!
All this, and only a week ago you were in flip flops hanging on to the last bit of summer sun. How quick the seasons change. How constant the rhythms of life.
I love the seasons. I know lots of folk would take twelve months of summer but I wouldn’t thank you for it. There’s so much to gain from each one!
Have you noticed the way seasons bring memories back or stir up emotions? Thoughts and feelings seem to get stuck in them like plastic bags caught in the trees, there to pick up when we come round that way again. The snow comes and with it a hundred memories of Christmases past. Notice too, the way seasons cause us to re-evaluate. We’re often rubbish at this, resisting with every inch of our being when told to ‘take a look at ourselves’. No one has the right to impose that! Yet when the seasons change, self reflection happens almost naturally; we’re even pleased about it. Seasons come like punctuation marks, commas and full stops that make us look back at the last bit we’ve written so we can know what to write next! They help us see ourselves and talk to ourselves.
Autumn has a lot to say. Don’t panic, I’m not about to tell you to listen to the squirrels or that your future’s mapped out in the face of the last leaf that fell in your path. Autumn speaks as creation speaks, it speaks about God! His eternal nature and divine power are clearly seen; so clear, mankind is out of excuses Paul says! How? Where? What are you on about? We see God by ‘what was made,’ (Romans 1:20). God spoke things into being! The noise reverberates, you can still hear it the apostle says!
As you get your coats on and embrace the crisp fresh air, here are some things I’ve gleaned from autumn. Or rather, here are some things autumn has pointed out to me.
Seasons of Life
The first time I heard this expression I was a bit sick in my mouth! It was a cheesy do-goody type Christian vlog posted by a wealthy American evangelist. I was so irked by the heavily patterned woolly jumper and lavish living room I switched off! But the phrase kept coming back. I continued to resist, even when it was embraced by my wife and its wisdom explained to me at length. But Autumn convinced me. We live life in chunks. Some things that are big elements of our lives now, won’t stay! They’re just for a season. Other elements of life are like the golden leaves we see right now; they’ll only be there and we’ll only notice them for a while, so enjoy them. There are things to see in the autumn of life you just won’t see at any other time. He has made everything beautiful in its time… and there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 11)
Learning what endures
Me and Jude have started going to garden centres! Initially it was for specific items but increasingly we’re just there, browsing, getting out and having gardening banter! The last visit provided us with a brutal education in ecology. A beautiful painted butterfly dropped out of the sky and settled on the flower before us. The flower had already got our attention, enchanted sufficiently to stop and read the label to check if this dainty creation could survive in our abattoir of a garden. Its crimson petals stretching out towards the sun, delicately placed atop a long thin stem, looking like (but making a mockery of) something that might walk down the catwalk at London fashion week, given this design crawls up from the mud. The addition of the butterfly landing forms a picture so pretty it evokes verbal responses, even gasps from observers. It was like God was showing off!
“In’t that nice” was as eloquent as I could manage at the time.
We paused to soak it in. Then to my complete shock and horror, as we turned to leave, and with the brutality of some kind of gardening gangster, Jude said — ”Aye, it’ll soon be over for him!”
“What d’you mean?” I say, panicked and wondering how she could know the personal health status of a butterfly we’d barely met.
“Well they all die around now don’t they?”
My only education on butterflies was ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’. I was desperately trying to remember if it ended with it dying. I didn’t think it did — I’m pretty sure it just flew away and lived forever!
We don’t like to think about things passing, time passing and especially our passing. We focus on ‘now’ or on ‘youth and beauty’, hoping they’ll last forever. But there’s lots to miss when we only look at life this way. Autumn helps us stop and learn lessons we’d otherwise miss. Everywhere we look the leaves are turning to golden oldies, floating away in the wind leaving the branch bare and butterflies dropping into garden centres for their last visit.
We gently and subconsciously learn things pass. Creation is a kind but erudite teacher.
Things pass; knowing this helps us appreciate the things we have more and handle them differently. Solomon’s insight was that it was good to learn not everything sticks around! David’s petition to God was that he might learn to number his days, so he’d gain a wise heart. (Psalm 90:12)
The wisdom follows thus…
We’re not here forever, so get on with it!
We’re not here forever, so cherish those moments!
We’re not here forever, so learn what’s important!
We’re not here forever, don’t hold the grudge!
We’re not here forever, so share your hope!
We’re not here forever, we’re made for more!
Seeing things pass reminds us things remain; Isaiah had an autumnal awakening. He realised that though ‘the grass withers and the flowers fall, the word of the Lord endures forever.’ (Isaiah 40:8)
It’s hard to believe, looking at the bare branches of some trees, that they’re not done for. November’s coming cold makes whole woods appear as barren wastelands; like winter dropped a curse they’ll never recover from. Perhaps if you’d never experienced the seasons and came to look at a winter wood for the first time that’s what you’d think! But we know life remains; out of the frozen earth life will spring. The withered tree resurrects. The petals stretch out towards the sun. The butterfly comes back to the flower; the people notice and are compelled to tell of its beauty. “In’t it nice” — the less eloquent ones will say.
“Creation speaks and it speaks of God” — others will say.
You’d be forgiven for looking at this world and thinking it’s done for. A curse has dropped that it’ll never recover from. But life remains, we know this. Even the most barren of trees speaks life.
So quick, grab your coat. Feel the nip in the air. Take a walk through the woods and have a gawp at those beautiful golden trees. There’s a lot to learn.
Ash Gibson, Pastor, Christchurch Xscape