Autumn: A Season of Detachment
Nature has much to teach us. The drought we’re experiencing in east Tennessee reminds us of how desperately we need Jesus’ living water flowing through us. The psalmist cries out: “As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God….” (Ps.42:1)
In a similar way, the seasons of nature speak to our spiritual lives. There are times of summer planting, autumn harvest, winter rest and springtime growth.
Autumn is a season for letting go. Beneath the death of fall leaves, lies the promise of new birth. Dead, useless, fallen leaves are transformed into rich humus that nurtures new growth in the spring. While the ground lies fallow, it is storing rich nutrients for seeds; bare branches that appear “dead” hold new green in their terminal buds.
Every birth requires “death,” letting go of everything familiar. The newborn was quite content in the warmth and security of the mother’s womb, yet the time comes for it to be ushered into a new and fuller life. Life events that continue to rip open our secure worlds are our “dying leaves” and can include a job, a relationship, firmly-held beliefs, financial security, or health.
Much depends on whether we give ourselves to the process or fight to keep things “safe.” No new growth will happen unless autumn lets go of what has been. The same is true for us. There is a strong pull in all of life for security and stability. Our attachments reveal our drive for possessions, control, comfort, achievement. Being strongly invested, yet unattached, to life is difficult.
“We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our own bosom. When we let go of them we begin to appreciate them as they really are.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude
Merton is talking about attachments and the things we may be clinging to, both outer “stuff,” and inner emotions and attitudes. Refraining from acquiring more shiny new toys and gadgets that our consumer culture insists we need is the most obvious application when we consider detachment. And certainly living simply and leaving as small a footprint as possible is important.
But detachment from negative or wasteful thought patterns, like past failures or self-pity or resentment, can also yield new freedom and space for the things of God. When we hug things to our bosom, those attachments keep us from seeing the good that God has for us.
“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it,” said Jesus, “but those who lose their life will keep it.” Luke 17:33 NRSV
Jesus teaches us to let go of the things of the world and embrace the freedom that is ours in Christ.
In order to practice this spiritual discipline of detachment, we need the attitude of “I can take it or leave it,” what Ignatius called “holy indifference.” If you don’t care whether you own something or not, then you can experience the freeing gift of detachment. Autumn is a reminder to surrender the things we’ve clasped so closely, and to pause in our busyness and face our unhealthy attachments. This is often uncomfortable or even painful, but it initiates a spiritual path that grows wider and more liberating.
Ask yourself: Have I surrendered my attachment to…
…what others think of me?
…my absolute views about God and the church?
…negative emotions and attitudes?
…my need to judge others?
…material things? Can I take them – or leave them? How much do they matter?
Draw an autumn tree. Let the tree symbolize your life. For each part of the tree reflect on the following questions. Write your responses on that part of the tree.
* Roots – Who and what has given you nourishment and vitality in your life?
Who and what “roots” you in your times of significant change?
* Trunk – What are your strengths? What events have channeled new life into you?
* Leaves – What is dying in your life now? What do you feel called to let go of?
* Bark – Who or what protects you, comforts you?
*Terminal buds on the ends of the branches – What is your hope?
**Adapted from “Falling Leaves,” by Joyce Rupp
Faithful God, when we cling to possessions and attitudes that are not from You, when we struggle to keep control rather than to trust Your plan, wrap us as in the darkening days of autumn and help us to wait patiently for clarity and vision as we live with uncertainty and insecurity. Don’t allow us to settle for things which will never satisfy, but to wait for You alone. Blessed are you autumn, season of surrender. Teach us the wisdom of letting go as you draw us into new ways of living. Amen.