A couple weeks ago, I was sitting on my deck, reading and enjoying the mild late-summer/early fall weather. After a while, I noticed a gentle, rhythmic sound. It sounded like it might be starting to rain. But I looked up and saw that the sun was shining and the sky was clear and bright. But the sound persisted. Eventually, I realized it must be the sound of leaves falling in the woods beyond my lawn.
A few days later, I was driving down a tree-lined country road on a bright, sunny day. Suddenly, I was driving through a shower of yellow leaves, gleaming like gold coins in the sunlight that filtered through the trees.
Yes, the leaves were definitely beginning to fall!
Summer is my favorite season of the year and I hate to see it go. For all the beauty that comes with Autumn and all the dazzling colors it brings to the maples here in New England, I can’t help feeling sad, knowing that it heralds the imminent arrival of the frigid, bleak cold of winter. When winter gives way to Mud Season here in Vermont, I’m among the first to watch for the first glimpse of pink buds on the trees. It thrills me to see the barren trees take on a certain softness as they prepare to explode into the great green canopy that will shade and delight us during the months ahead. But inevitably, Autumn will creep up on us like a stealthy predator, slowly stealing the shiny green of the leaves and turning them to a duller, dustier shade of green. And then, long before I’m ready, the leaves turn yellow, red and orange, blazing for an all-too-short season with colors that force us to turn aside and take off our shoes, because the ground we’re standing on has clearly become holy. But after their all-too-brief moment of transcendent glory, the leaves quickly turn brown and fall to the earth, leaving empty branches reaching to the sky as if in prayerful surrender to the cold ordeal that lies ahead.
Mystics of many traditions tell us that Nature is one of the ways God speaks to us, at least if we’re willing to listen. In that sense, the trees have much to teach us about spirituality. A superficial reflection on the annual rise and fall of the leaves might suggest a parallel with our own life cycle from birth to death . . . but such a reflection doesn’t go far enough. We are more like the trees than the leaves. Once the leaves fall, the naked trees don’t die but continue to draw enough life from the earth to make it through the winter. Barring the traumas of wind, ax or chainsaw, the trees will survive the winter and bring forth a new crop of leaves and fruit. Though certain years will be better than others and the radiance of their Autumn splendor may vary, the trees can expect their leaves to repeat the cycle of birth, flowering, glorification, and death many times during their lifetimes.
The same is true for us. God calls each of us to bring forth new life, to blossom and flourish, to reveal some kind of transcendent beauty, and then let go and be dormant for a time until new life again summons us to begin a new season of fertility and productivity. Like the trees, we remain after the “leaves” of the current season fall away. We remain, with arms uplifted and naked, waiting to receive God’s next blessed manifestation through us. Sometimes that call will be to produce much fruit. Sometimes it will be to offer shade and comfort. Sometimes it will be to shine with ethereal beauty to enable a new Moses to hear the voice of an angel. And sometimes it will be to stand naked in silent witness to the power of Life to endure cold and suffering.
Even as the leaves fall and die at our feet, their message is one of Hope and New Life. Even in the coldest winter, something new is coming to life through us! Let the trees teach you their Truth!