The trees in our street declare it's autumn in the natural world, their green leaves metamorphosing to shades of brown and yellow and orange, separating from branches, falling, crumbling, becoming a stunning multi-coloured mosaic on the earth below.
Right now we are captured by autumn’s beauty, but it won’t be long before our caretaker nature kicks in and we gather up the leaves and send them to their destiny – the ‘green’ garbage or the backyard compost. The leaves are dying after all, and the deadening process will leave trees bare and branches looking like nothing but sticks, at least until spring.
The seasons are vital for the earth. From a purely technical standpoint, they occur because the earth’s axis is tilted, causing the degree of sunlight in the earth’s hemispheres to vary as she orbits the sun – a 365-day round trip. That might sound a little scientific, but the fact is that if the earth was not tilted, we would not have seasons. It would be the same all year round, an unthinkable and unsustainable planetary scenario!
So the earth’s tilt is not by accident. Each of the seasons, particularly in the globe’s mid-latitude or temperate zones, is critical to earth functioning as a sustainable environment for life and autumn is no less vital than summer, winter or spring.
It’s in autumn, or fall as it’s known in North America, that the earth begins to down tools and rest for a while. Farmers harvest their crops and keep an extra store for the coming winter months. Animals gather extra supplies to see them through or migrate to warmer climates. Some grow thicker coats and others prepare for hibernation. Energy from the sun reduces, the earth sheds its skin and awaits spring.
All things new
I recently noted autumn being called, perhaps prophetically amid the current global crisis, ‘The Cooling-Off Season’. But surely we don’t need the coronavirus pandemic to tell us that periodically human beings need their own cooling-off period, a personal autumn when we slow down, shed our skins, and are revitalised.
I’m talking first about a stopping experience, a letting go of our life’s old season with its highs and lows, its joys and grieve, its gains and losses, its energy and exhaustion, its perfect days and storms. Then, a transitioning, a process of preparation for something new. For a while, things may look bare on the surface but underneath, as we wait and reflect and seek what’s good for our nourishment, our lives are primed for the day that spring arrives.
To our disadvantage, often it’s years, sometimes decades, between the autumns of our lives. Our need for stopping and shedding and waiting for replenishment goes on unmet and our lives are diminished.
Then there’s a world war or an economic crisis or a COVID-19 and suddenly, whether we like it or not, we’re forced to stop.
I’ve often thought that God, in all of God’s brilliance, built into life on planet earth a principle of death and resurrection that pervades every dimension of our lives. When you look back, it’s not difficult to discern this pattern of dying and rising, ending and beginning, discarding and replenishing.
Most of us experience it every day in some small way, often unthinkingly; and the earth is constantly renewing itself. How moving it was to see fresh green shoots coming out of black burnt trees only weeks after last summer’s horrific bushfire season. Profoundly, the archetype of this pattern, its focal point and its greatest demonstration, is the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It was the Apostle Paul who wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”(2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17).The autumn of our lives is a vital part of this process. It is a spiritual metamorphosis activated by faith in God’s greatest intervention in the affairs of humanity. It is a transformation of the soul that reverberates outwards and impacts the whole of our lives, making all things new.
Peter McGuigan is a Salvation Army officer currently serving in Melbourne. The writer of several books and a substantive body of feature and opinion articles, Peter has served in senior communications roles in The Salvation Army and has held several editorships. He holds an MA (Writing) and is a former President of the Australasian Religious Press Association (2008-2011).