ISSUES OF FAITH: The hidden, holy gift of autumn

I LOVE THE turning of the season between summer and fall.

The high arc of the sun still brings warmth to our backs, but the mornings and evenings are crisper now and when the wind picks up there is the skittering sound of dried leaves.

As we observe the changing colors of the leaves, I want to reflect upon the lesson these leaves can teach us.

Before becoming a minister, I was once a science major.

I remember learning in a botany course about the reason that a deciduous tree’s leaves turn colors.

I found it astonishing back then and even more so now, in the autumn of my own life.

Leaves, you may recall, are usually green because of chlorophyll.

It is chlorophyll that gives leaves their distinctive green color, and it is, along with sunshine, the key ingredient in the magical, life-producing process of photosynthesis.

The hidden secret of this process is this: The leaves don’t actually “turn” colors.

As the winter season approaches, the photosynthesis process is altered because it lacks the key ingredients of warmth and sunshine.

This, in turn, causes the trees to begin breaking down chlorophyll.

With the green gone, the other colors that have been there all along — the magical reds, golds and oranges — begin to express themselves.

That’s the secret: There is no turning, no changing.

There’s only the death of what has been masking the colors inside — the beauty has been there all along.

We as human beings are like this.

Each one of us contains hidden jewels inside.

Each of us contains inherent sacred qualities: the impulse toward kindness, compassion, justice, forgiveness and love.

Much of the time these qualities can be masked, covered up, hidden by our ego self by greed, competitiveness, anger and selfishness.

What masks our sacred qualities (the colors) is not our humanity, something I see ultimately as a reflection of the divine, but rather our ego, our tendency to see ourselves as mere terrestrial creatures.

We see ourselves as cut off from the holy, cut off from one another, cut off from the natural cosmos.

The hidden mystery of autumn is that when one life dies, the colors inside are on display.

And there is something similar that happens inside us when we let go of this ego self, of selfishness, of being cut off and isolated.

To put in a religious language, we have to die to our ego, to our selfishness, before we can awaken to our truer selves in a bigger, more interwoven, more compassionate, more divine reality.

The poet Rumi put it this way: “If you could get rid of yourself just once, the secret of secrets would open to you. The face of the unknown, hidden beyond the universe would appear on the mirror of your perception.”

This fear of letting go, of getting rid of our limited self is real.

We are all afraid of death.

Any death.

All death.

Letting go of this earthly life is frightening.

Letting go of any prejudice, any preconceived notion, any notion of identity is also a form of death.

Autumn, however, offers us the opportunity to understand ourselves anew, to reveal what has been within us all along.

We are naturally infused with aspects of the divine.

Autumn reminds us to let these aspects shine.

As I conclude this, my very first column, I want to encourage you to welcome the beauty of all of autumn’s gifts — both externally and internally.

Bring on the sweater.

Bring on the crisp air and beautiful fall colors.

And bring on the autumn of the soul.

Let us let go of the ego self, unmask the glorious, sacred colors within, and let them shine.

________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]

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