Lately, as I’ve been walking on the trail near our house, under the guise of exercising the dog, I’ve noticed the dry leaves. The ones that have been “released” from their service to the tree. I’ve watched them fall from the canopy while I walk, I’ve listened to the crunch of the leaves under my feet as I plod forward. Amused, I’ve enjoyed the times that Jasper thinks that the animated leaves, caught on a breeze, are little animals to be hunted and tracked, only to find that, when he finally catches up to one, it is just a dry leaf.
Jasper doesn’t seem to mind. Once he realizes that it is just a dry leaf, he moves on, his nose directing him onward to the next thing. He continues to trot along, his head to the wind, waiting for the next scent, or leaf, that will catch his attention and lead him to something new.
Just a dry leaf. And yet, just a few weeks ago, that leaf was working very hard to sustain the tree. To help to feed it before the cold winter ahead. To stretch itself out to the sunlight, providing the tree with needed growth and life.
At times, I think we can all feel like one of those dry leaves. Our energy spent. Our hope lost. We’ve given all that we can, and we can only hope that our efforts to sustain have provided growth and energy for the times to come.
I think it can feel that way when we send our children off to college. I’ve been contemplating this since I’m now living with an empty nest. And yet, changes in my life of late have given me so much hope. I’ve started painting. I’m finding time to enjoy the changing seasons and the spectacular autumn colors. The empty nest is agreeing with me.
Now that our kids are both off at college, I’ve been able to enjoy a bit of freedom. I’ve allowed the winds to carry me, just a little bit more than I’ve been able to before. Like Jasper, I’m looking to the next thing. Today, I reflect on how much of my energy has been focused on sustaining our children. Until now, I’ve expressed sympathy and love when they’ve been bruised and battered by forces outside themselves. I’ve held them tenderly when they feel as if they are hanging by a thread. I’ve watched them stretch and grow and begin to sustain themselves, as if they have put down roots and are now creating the seedling of life in their own world.
My love and support of my kids is still very necessary. It will continue forever. As I watch them stretch and grow, reaching for the sunlight, I realize that I am so proud of these young adults. Each day is a new opportunity for growth, for a toddler, or a teenager, or a college student, or an empty nester, or a grandparent, or an elder. Each time I am aware of this, through the grace of God, I am astounded, and grateful, and aware of being fully alive.
Today, I give thanks for the spectacular autumn that I am experiencing. May I continue to sustain and to let go. May I continue to appreciate and to live fully.
I invite you to do the same.
All good giving and every perfect gift comes from above.
flowers in the garden
laughter in the hall
children in the park
I will not take these things for granted
to crawl inside the wire and feel something near me
to feel this accepting
that it is lonely here, but not alone
and on the telephone
you offer visions dancing
music in the bedroom
laughter in the hall
dive into the ocean
singing by the fire
running through the forest
and standing in the wind
in rolling canyons
I will not take these things for granted
-toad the wet sprocket, in the song ‘I will not take these things for granted’
For at least a few years now, I have had a place in my house dedicated to morning prayer. In the early days of this practice of mine, I would set my alarm 10 minutes earlier, turn on the computer, spend a few moments with the scripture readings of the day. I’d quiet my mind long enough for a word or two to touch my heart. Gradually, this practice grew to 20 minutes, and shifted to a comfortable little chair in the corner of the den. Here, I claimed a short length of bookshelf, on which I placed my meager collection of spiritual books. I began to read a paragraph or two from spiritual authors I had never heard of before, like Luis Martinez (who wrote about the holy spirit), Esther de Waal (who focused on Benedictine spirituality), Henri Nouwen, Joyce Rupp, or M Basil Pennington. From this comfortable spot, as I contemplated scripture, reflected on God’s grace, and hungered for more, I would watch as the horizon began to brighten slowly, sometimes brilliant shades of red, orange, and purple, or sometimes the grey of an early morning rain shower.
Eventually, my prayer space moved from a corner of the den to the guest room, and the 5-10 spiritual books grew to a collection that filled a small bookcase. In some ways, the growth of my spiritual reading speaks to my spiritual hunger. Surely, one more book about the spiritual life would enlighten me so that I would understand God. Surely, one more spiritual master’s experience of God would allow me to figure God out… to know all there is to know… to understand fully the mystery.
The reality is, as I’m sure you know, each time I sit down for prayer in the morning, I only begin to understand the depth of the mystery. And yet, as the mystery of God grows in my awareness, God graces me with the thirst for more.
Recently, my prayer space has shifted once again. Same room, different arrangement. I moved my chair so that I can see the sky brighten in the morning without turning my head. Outside the window, an old oak tree’s branches fill the frame, and as the sun rises, its leaves light up with brilliant shades of ethereal green, as if illumined from the inside. Towards the bottom of the view, a young, nearly perfect, flowering cherry tree stretches its branches in a futile attempt to catch up to the scruffy, weathered old oak. Mentally, I root this cherry tree on, knowing full well that it will never be as tall (or have as much character) as the old oak.
So it is, sometimes, with the spiritual life. We reach for the heavens by following the example of the wise and learned. And yet we must be like children, with a sense of wonder. Sometimes, we need to shift our focus and look past the window frame to the sky that brightens on the horizon. Always, we must pray for the grace to embrace the mystery.