The sky shone a brilliant blue, showcasing the scarlet leaves of a few red maples in our neighborhood. The persistent breeze blew huskily in bursts chasing the great wisps of clouds across the sky. Four-year-old G was riding his scooter as fast as his left leg could propel him down the street. He would periodically zigzag across the sidewalk, never decreasing his speed, fueled by a genuine enthusiasm for the autumn gusts and the piles of crunchy, dried leaves collecting in random patches. Another rush of wind would shake the branches, tear leaves from their stems, fling my hair upward and cause dozens of individual leaves to dance across the street toward us. They crossed our path in an ecstatic state, frantically attempting to reach a spot to rest in safety. And G was off again with a laugh. He would only stop as a particular leaf caught his attention. Leaving his scooter for mere seconds, he would remove the leaf from the swirling masses. “For my nature journal,” and off again he zipped way ahead of me. Knowing his conscientious nature, I was assured he would soon pause and wait for me to catch up with him.
This time his leaf discovery elicited a larger reaction. “Mama, this leaf is two different colors!”
“Yes, it is. It must have been blown off the tree in the process of changing.”
“It’s BEAUTIFUL!” he breathed and returned to his autumn dash.
We are in the process of changing our colors, too. Grace is what holds us together, even after we are tossed through the air by gusty winds. Once we have made that decision to follow Jesus, we are being transformed. Even now we “are being transformed into the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. The trees in autumn reflect God’s glorious planning. They do not change their hues instantaneously, but the leaves closest to Him begin their gradual transformation. From the tips of the trees to the center, and finally the lower branches reveal their inner, earthy glow. They beam yellow, gold, orange, red, scarlet, even flicker in browns.
God has even created the trees to be transformed in a graduated fashion, in their proper time. His grace extends even to us. Our acceptance into the love of God is immediate, change commences instantaneously, but is a slow, painful, even tedious process. We glow half in greens and browns, yellows and oranges, some of us struggling to find our reds, desperate we may never fully transform. Grace is in the autumn. I just pray that we may find the aching process as beautiful as G does.
Now, we grow imperceptibly. One day, however, it will be all at once, and we will not know of any other beauty. We will be complete, all aglow with the brilliance of Christ.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of any eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Spring is about renewal, resurrection, the hope of youth, emerging offspring, green vibrancy, rebirth. It is about rain replenishing nature, warming skin, hearts and minds. So, what is autumn? Is it the harbinger of death, and gloom? Is it chilly days threatening frozen temperatures, the death of leaves and trees? Is it a symbol of the year’s finality, even the end of our days?
Autumn also represents a kind of hope, a burgeoning glimpse at the reincarnation of nature.
You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
So, nature applauds rotting plants and biodegrading leaves, and we applaud the sacrament of baptism, a submersible decision to die to self. Thus, it explains our joy even when we witness the break down of chlorophyll and the slow, steady disappearance of vibrant greens, even when the rusty leaves glow from their branches. Their branches, bare, protrude awkwardly, reaching out to nothing in particular, haphazardly underlining a gaggle of migrating geese in the October sky. Even so, we thrill with its beauty.
And so, it explains a child’s joy, an irrepressible giggle bursting forth as he tumbles and spills across the dead, dried leaves. They serve not so much as evidence of death, but as a reminder of an ever-renewing promise.
According to the calendar, this is the first day of fall, the autumn equinox. September is often full of golden light, blueness of sky, gentle weather and hints of the crisp, spicy air to come. A asked me yesterday, “Why are you obsessed with trees?”