Transformational Lessons of Autumn

By Matt Sapp

Six years ago Harvey Cox wrote a book called The Future of FaithIn it he argues that we are going through a great religious transition from the Age of Belief to the Age of the Spirit.  Generally, he says, contemporary culture is moving from a religiosity governed by particular beliefs about God toward a religiosity that’s more at home embracing religious mystery. “The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it,” he writes.

Cox quotes Albert Einstein as saying,

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle.

I think Harvey Cox is right about a great religious transition, and there are no transitions quite as grand as the earth-sweeping shifts from one season to the next.

As summer gives way to fall, it’s an appropriate time to stand “rapt in awe” and wonder at the mystery of the seasons and the God who governs them.

We know how the seasons work, of course.  It is not entirely a mystery.  We know why the days get shorter and the air gets colder in the fall.   Scientists can explain how temperature and light interact with trees to make the leaves change colors.

These explanations, however, do not take the mystery or the awe from the scale of these grand transitions. It does not take the wonder out of delicate processes that repeat themselves with such precision and regularity.

The changing of the seasons inspires a certain delight in me, and I know I’m not alone. Those of you pining for pumpkin spice lattes, warm sweaters, and the smell of roaring fires drifting up through neighborhood chimneys know what I’m talking about.

As much as I dislike winter (is hate too strong a word?), the first day when the air turns from crisp to biting and the warming rays of fall have lost their last vestiges of heat inspires a sense of awe in me, even as I hunker down and wait for spring.

So as summer gives way to fall, here are a few things we can learn from the changing of the seasons.

Seasons remind us that change isn’t bad, especially when we’re prepared for it. Seasons are the epitome of predictable change. We know what kind of change to expect with seasons. Seasons remind us that there are rhythms to life, cycles of existence, and that we’re intimately connected to them.

The changing seasons bring new opportunities and new experiences, even as they may bring some new challenges. But the challenges of change usually come when change catches us off guard—like a winter storm without a snow shovel or a cold night before the wood has been brought in.

When we’re well prepared change is something to look forward to. When the wood is gathered and the snow shovel is ready, the challenge of winter fades. It can even be fun if the sled is ready too.

Seasons remind us that change is impossible to avoid. Change comes whether we like it or not.

Change comes to our bodies and our families—and to our churches—as time goes by.  Seasons remind us of the inevitable and steady passage of time. Every season gives us a chance to change with it. It’s silly to leave our beach towels packed away and our winter coats on when summer comes.

Seasons remind us of the presence of powerful forces beyond our control. There is both mystery and order to the way the world works.  As mentioned, some of it we understand and some of it will always be too big for us.  The order and predictability of the seasons is reassuring in a world that doesn’t always make sense. And the mystery and grandeur of seasonal change inspires a sense of awe and wonder that keeps us from becoming what Einstein might call snuffed out candles.

Here’s to candles that continue to burn brightly. Happy fall.

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