The leaves have fallen with more intensity this past week. The Autumn Blaze Maple in my front yard has given up much of its colorful bounty. Soon, there will be one lone leaf left, defiantly hanging on against the frost and approach of dormancy. Then we will wait through the winter for buds to appear, for new growth to happen. It is not a sure thing.
The tree suffered significant damage in the derecho a few years ago. The wound on the main trunk still gapes widely, testifying to the ferocity of that wind and the damage wrought. It also testifies to the slow - glacial even - pace of healing as new bark slowly covers the wound. Will it return in spring? That is the question. That is the uncertainty.
Every fall is a proclamation of truth. Like the words on Ash Wednesday, “Remember you are dust and dust you shall return,” the falling leaves tell us that life is finite, fragile, and dependent on grace to rise for another season. When that last leaf falls, we grieve, not for the tree, but for ourselves.
It is as the poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote (thanks to my friend David for sharing this),
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)
The prayer of the faithful is that fall’s truth-telling leads to a proclamation much larger. There is hope that the tree in my front yard, bearing the wounds and bruises of past seasons, will indeed bloom again. I think the tree knows this and rests in that gracious knowledge. As that last leaf lets go and returns to the earth, mulch for my roses, it does so knowing grace is promised.
This is our charge as well. To let go and to fall into God’s grace, trusting the gracious life that flows from that divine love.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor