Here in Ohio the colours of autumn are taking hold of the forests and the freeway edges alike. Leaves are turning yellow, orange, and red, setting the world on fire. It is beautiful, but it is also a sign of impending winter. The leaves change colour because the light is fading, and the trees know from experience that harder times are coming. They are retreating, withdrawing their greenness, in order to be able to bud another day in the spring.
For some of us, there are leaves on the spirits within us that tend to withdraw their greenness as the light fades. The lower angle of the sun and the harder onset of night cause us some anxiety about the winter to come, some disturbance of the soul that worries whether there will be enough sap stored up to see us through to spring, to resurrection.
There may be a fever of prayerful activity, “raging against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas), trying to stave off the coldness to come. They are symptoms of the southerning sun. Soon, some of us know, our prayers will be those of sleepwalkers, slow to respond to the promptings and proddings of the Spirit, fumbling and in danger of falling.
There is a season for all things, the Preacher tells us, a time to break down, and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3).
The leaves change colour as their chlorophyll breaks down and reveals the other pigments hiding behind the green. (I once had a tabby cat who turned bright orange in his old age, as his black and brown pigments faded away to reveal the camouflaged tiger.) The bright colours are a sign of something breaking down – but they are also reserving and preserving the strength of the tree against the hope of spring, storing up greenness ready to break forth from the tomb of winter when the sun rises high enough in the sky.
There is a time to break down, and a time to build up.
If your prayer life changes with the seasons of creation or the seasons of the spirit, do not be afraid. It is always a good time to pray, whether it’s sometimes in bright colours, sometimes clothed in green, sometimes from the muffled blanket of winter and the snuffling, barely visible breath of hibernation.
There is beauty in the response of nature to the seasons of creation and the challenges of survival.
There is deep patience embedded in the withdrawal of greenness, the turning, even falling of the leaves.
There is deeper patience still in the wisdom of God, who knows that we are but grass, that our glory fades and falls like flowers (Psalm 103); but the mercy of God is evergreen.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio. Her first book, A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing, is scheduled for release from Upper Room Books on April 1, 2020. She blogs at over the water.
Updated to add links and references: Ecclesiastes 3; Psalm 103; Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” found at poets.org; “Why do leaves change color in the fall season?” Ask a Biologist, answered by Richard K. Simpson, Graduate Student Arizona State University