Dear Fellow Pilgrims,
The majesty of autumn draws us into a paradox. It is the season of abundance and harvest as well as the season of death and decay. It is a time for storing up as well as a time for letting go. The squirrels store nuts for the winter, while the trees let go of their chlorophyll and eventually their leaves. Humans store up produce and firewood, while letting go of sun-drenched days. The word autumn itself brings a host of contradictions. Some trace it to the Latin word auctus, which means to “increase” while others trace it to an ancient Etruscan word meaning the “drying-up season.”
Regardless, the season we now call autumn invites us to ponder the mystery of life and death, most notably that one thing must die so another can live. Jesus framed it this way: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) So while we tend to think of life and death as distinct and even opposite things, autumn reminds us how very much intertwined and inter-dependent they are. It is impossible to have one without the other. The wheat must die to produce the bread that gives and sustains life.
When we process all of this through the lens of physical-life experience, it can feel overwhelming. The death of someone we love often hurts so much that it’s difficult to see how life comes from it. Part of us dies with that person, leaving us with deep sorrow and emptiness – hardly a feeling we’d equate with abundance. Through it all, we find hope in our belief in resurrection and eternal life, our faith that love is eternal and never dies.
Thinking beyond physical life and death, however, we find an invitation to spiritualize this season of autumn. What are the things I need to let die within myself so that good fruit may grow in abundance? Pride? Arrogance? Prejudice? Old anger? Envy? What are the seeds within me that I cling to but don’t release to the winds of Spirit? My unfiltered compassion? My giftedness? My forgiveness?
On the credenza in my study rests a Manjushri – a Buddhist wisdom sword. At the end of the curved blade is a bronze carving of fire (the flames of spirit) rather than a flesh-piercing point. It serves as a reminder that our real enemies are not other people; they are things such as hatred, selfishness, fear, narcissism and so forth. These are the things we must let fall to the earth and die in order for us to produce life-giving fruit.
Fortunately, the bright, bold colors of autumn, the sound of dry leaves rustling against our feet, and even the smell of a warm sweater inspire a healthy melancholy within us. They have a way of slowing our minds so we can wax introspective. It is a good and natural time of year to reflect on the questions: What’s holding me back? What do I need to let go of, to let die within me? The answers to these questions are, in fact, the seeds of new life.