A walk around Gold Creek Pond has, for the years I've lived here in the mountains, always been an act of worship. This year, the seasons changed literally overnight, as we moved from warm sun with various shades of smoke in the air to snow in the high country and our now common mid-Autumn rhythm of snow and rain, where you inhale damp and welcome cold. Woven throughout these special weeks, on both the warm and cold side of the calendar, are the changing colors of the trees, and the eventual loss of the leaves. Each element mirrors the realities of a human life well-lived and the necessities of change and loss.
It turns out the vibrant colors that awaken our senses to a different joy and worship are the tree's true colors, their authentic identity. The previous months they've been busy with growth and reproduction, fueled by the greening from chlorophyll among other things. As the nights lengthen, the production and delivery systems for chlorophyll begin to shut down and the greening stops. When that happens, the trees truest and deepest colors come out for their final act.
One author speaks of the first half of life as a time of "building our box" which means it's the time when we're establishing our many identities: Married or single? Seattle or Austria or England or Colorado? Expendable income or subsistence living? What will our causes be? Where will we find community?
I could go on but you get the point. Whether through scratching and clawing or letting things unfold in gentler ways, we build our lives. This is good and appropriate, but its also dangerous. The problem for many, if not most of us, is that these identities which are really only the container through which our deepest and truest selves find expression, become more important than our truest self. The box becomes more important to us than what's in the box.
When that happens, we begin to worry about (as Jesus says), "what we will eat and drink, and our bodies, about what we will wear..." When these worries escalate, they become anxiety and cortisol and a gnawing frustration that causes replays of conversations in our minds. All this gives birth to fears of the future and regrets of the past. Joy is absent. So we search for it by fighting for our box. Or perhaps we surrender but then seek to escape the pains that come to us when the box we're building takes a hit. And make no mistake, your box will take numerous hits. Health challenges. Financial setbacks. The unpleasant realization that not everyone thinks you're amazing. Aging. Changing roles. No matter how hard you try, there's no escaping the reality that your box won't last forever.
Whatever measure of power, or wealth, or career, or influence we have, it won't last forever.
No matter how carefully you eat or cleverly you exercise, your health will change, and not always for the better.
You'll reach an apex of earning power, and then you won't.
Autumn leaves, though, are the reminder that all these changes (losses) are good because they're part of the shedding process that ultimately reveals our deepest and truest colors. Our box is made of cardboard, friends. As Job said after the season when his box took so many hits: "Naked I came (into this world) and naked I will return." Indeed.
What can only be learned through experience, though, is that the shedding of all the vital identities we built up over the decades is a vital necessity because its in the shedding that our truest colors shine through:
Our children leave home and we discover new facets of an identity that transcends the many joys and obligations of 24/7 parenting that unfolded for some decades.
We change jobs, or roles, or retire, and find the opportunity of awakening parts of us that had fallen asleep when we had so many meetings.
Our finances change, and we awaken to a simplicity that we once knew, but lost somewhere along the way, as the religion of consumerism reached into our lives with its constant "buy me" "taste me" "touch me" "visit me" "cheer for me" messages. We no longer feel the need to be there.
As the box we've worked so hard to build and protect begins to drop away, we discover an identity that was there all along. Much to our surprise, it's stunningly beautiful so we stop fighting to protect our box and let go completely. When we do that, the words of Jesus that some of us have preached since we were 20 begins to finally make sense:
He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for my sake will find it.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.
It is finished. The striving to build the box, protect the box, defend the box, declare in subtle ways that my box is the best box, that's all finished now. And in the wake of letting all that go, there's a more vibrant color on display. Part of the beauty, though, is how little it matters whether or not anyone is looking.
O Lord Christ
thanks be to you for the beauty of the seasons in creation
each one speaking to the beauty of seasons in our lives
calling us to rest in winter
calling us to the vibrancy of new undertakings in hopes of creative fruit in the spring
calling us to the warmth of production and harvest from our labors in the summer
and finally, inviting us to let go, so that our true colors can find expression
Colors born not of this world, but colors eternal, and life giving, and beautiful
Open our hands, that when the moments come (and there will be many)
We may find the courage to let go, allowing your beauty to be seen through us.