My petunias are coming to an end. The colours of the hydrangeas are moving from their pink to a burnt orange. The mornings are cooler, we begin the day with the moon setting, the light seems softer somehow and on some trees, we see the beginning of the colour change. Autumn is on the way!
Autumn is such a gracious time, I think! As the daylight starts to ebb away it brings with it a beautiful stillness. It always feels to me that these darker mornings and still days invites in us a reflective spirit. And there is the beauty of the leaves as they change colour, a reminder that loss is a necessary part of growth and that change is all around us. And for me, and many others I am sure, I always associate autumn with Lent.
For some, autumn can be seen as a melancholic time. The falling of the leaves may signify endings and endings can be hard for us. For others the stripping away may offer symbolic permission to let go, perhaps of a trouble or burden. Or, perhaps our hearts sink a little with the coming darkness – a reminder that the more relaxed and carefree time of summer is coming to an end – and this pandemic summer did go quickly! For some the rich colours of red and gold may proclaim beauty and the autumn fruits and vegetables offer a reminder of life’s blessings and abundance.
On Wednesday, Christians around the world will acknowledge the commencement of Lent. For many the call to return to the Lord will sound familiar. The cry for mercy will resonate and the reminder to pray, fast and give alms will provoke a response. And this remembering makes my heart soar.
In her introduction to Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen writes:
‘The best stories have meanings; their meaning changes as our capacity to understand and appreciate meaning grows. Revisiting such stories over the years, one wonders how one could not have seen their present meaning all along, all the time unaware of what meaning a future reading may hold. Like the stories themselves, all these meanings are true.’
For me, the recalling of these familiar texts brings truth to the meaning of this ancient Lenten practice. The memory they evoke draws me to think anew about who I am. What has changed for me this year? How has the God of mercy been revealed to me in the ups and downs of the past months? And to enable this spirit, I hear the call to live simply, generously and prayerfully.
So, as we commence our 2022 Lenten pilgrimage perhaps we can take a cue from the physical world around us. Perhaps it is time to think about what it is that we need to let go of, confident that in the letting go we are preparing the way for something new. Perhaps it is a time to sit with this in-between time, this liminal space time, and allow God to work in the hidden depths of our hearts. I wonder if this is something with which our biblical ancestors were familiar. We can hear the echo of the cries of the psalmist when we ask God to teach us (Ps 86), to have mercy on us (Ps 51), to remember us (Ps 105), to be with us in times of trouble (Ps 91), to listen to us (Ps 145), to guard us (Ps 17), to bless us (Ps 145). These are some of the riches the Lenten scriptures will offer us. These are some of the cries, perhaps, of the autumn Lent heart.
Soon, I will replace my petunias with pansy seeds, just as my mum did before me. These seeds will, in due course, reveal their splendour and provide a visual reminder that what lies in the dark earth for many days – with the necessary care – brings forth new life. So may we care for our hearts this Lent in order enable in them a new spirit. A new life. A renewed sense of what it means to live as a good and faithful servant of a loving God. A renewed heart that gives, receives and enables blessing.
And this poem from Michael Leunig might help:
We give thanks for the harvest of the heart’s work;
Seeds of faith planted with faith;
Love nurtured by love;
Courage strengthened by courage.
We give thanks for the fruits of the struggling soul,
The bitter and the sweet;
For that which has grown in adversity
And for that which has flourished in warmth and grace;
For the radiance of the spirit in autumn
And for that which must now fade and die.
We are blessed and give thanks.
By Cathy Jenkins