Autumn: Season of Surrender
What comes to mind when you think of fall? Pumpkins, apples, brilliant sunrises, colorful leaves ….Like the seasons of nature, our spiritual lives also experience seasons. There are times of summer planting, autumn harvest, winter rest and springtime growth.
Beneath the death of fall leaves, lies the promise of new birth. Dead, useless 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.
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. Being strongly invested, yet unattached, to life is difficult. Our attachments reveal our drive for possessions, control, comfort, achievement.
Whenever we’re called to release something secure and familiar, we are also being invited to something new, a transformation into a fuller self. Held in God’s compassionate hands, we are being led into the territory of unknowing.
Even 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.
Sometimes opportunities to let go are imposed on us. For example, facing cancer has reminded me in so many ways that I am not in control:
I surrendered any illusion of beauty with the dramatic weight swings and hair loss;
I surrendered my image of myself as a caregiver who helps and serves others when I became totally helpless and needed others’ care;
I surrendered financial security as medical bills continued to mount.
At other times we’re given the opportunity to choose death to self, to surrender our own plans and trust God with an unknown future. For example, in infant baptism, parents affirm that children are a gift of God’s grace, but then we are reminded again and again that those new creations are not our possessions. Parenting is a continual process of letting go: when they are desperately sick; when they are left with their kindergarten teacher; when they earn their driver’s license; when their heart is broken; when they become parents themselves. In giving up control, we learn to trust Jesus with what is most precious to us.
In the art of letting go, we truly come to life. Like all great art, this surrender is the work of a lifetime. There can be no growth without change. Autumn is a reminder to accept, to surrender, and to pause in our busyness and face our unhealthy attachments. This is often uncomfortable or even painful, but ushers in a deeper freedom.
Much depends on whether we give ourselves to the process or fight to keep things “safe.” Jesus knew all about surrender:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
Jesus humbled himself by giving up….
Heaven for human limitations
Power for weakness
Glory for suffering
Success in human eyes for faithfulness in God’s eyes
Prestige for disgrace in world’s eyes
Life for death
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. When we embrace Jesus’ path of descent, we open ourselves to new life. We let go of everything that isn’t God.
Jesus said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. Mark 8:34-35 NRSV
“Faithful God, when we refuse to wait with the mystery of the unknown, when we struggle to keep control rather than to let life evolve, wrap us (as) in the darkening days of autumn and encourage us to wait patiently for clarity and vision as we live with uncertainty and insecurity. Blessed are you autumn, season of surrender, You teach us the wisdom of letting go as you draw us into new ways of living.” *
with a constant chorus of cicadas
the leaves tumble down,
from long, thin silver poplars,
they twirl to the ground,
dancing the Autumn death dance
beneath the great blue sky.
the leaves seem glad at the going,
(is there something I don’t know?)
sparkling in the October sunshine,
they fill the air with gentle rustling.
one, then another and another,
on they skim down from above,
bedding the forest table before me
with comforting crunches and crackles.
this gigantic death scene of leaves
does not smell of sorrow and sadness,
rather, the earth is colored with joy
and the leaves make music in the wind.
why is this dance of death so lovely?
why do leaves seem so willing to go?
are they whispering to each other,
urging one another to be freed?
maybe “you first and then I’ll follow”
or: “you can do it, go ahead”
supporting one another gladly
in their call to final surrender.
I have not yet discovered the secret
of the serenity of sailing leaves;
every autumn I walk among them
with a longing that stretches forever,
wanting to face tat death-dance
and the truth of my own mortality. **