I celebrated my birthday last weekend and watched the end of our summer move into autumn on the tail of some blustery winds and cold showers of rain. It has been very dry and the leaves I had been watching shrivel brown on the trees were finally blown out from their bows to gather in gutters and the corner of fading lawns. In church on Sunday the heating was on for the first time and encouraging words of new things in God were matched to the images of falling leaves that must first die and be blown away before anything new can be born. Last year I wrote this,
Autumn has a splendour all of its own. Gloriously each shed leaf tells us that a tree knows how to protect itself against the cold dark months ahead. The days get shorter and the leaf, robbed of light, can not stay green. At the base of the leaf, cells laid down in spring have accommodated the flow of water and food but now swell to block that flow. The chlorophyl, that makes the leaf green, disappears and the character of the leaf is changed. Within the boundaries of its original shape the leaf takes on fine hues of fiery red and purple, yellow and orange. Glucose trapped in the cells of the leaf are helping the tree cling to life for a little longer, helping the tree lay down the stores of energy it will need, deep in its roots, to last out the winter. A tear line appears between the leaf and the tree, until the leaf is finally blown off in the wind or simply falls under the force of its own weight. Some leaves will even cling there until spring, when the growth of a new bud coming through will finally push the old leaf to the ground.
This year I’m thinking again on the cold months, that tear line at the base of the leaf, the things that must happen for the seasons to change. The old, once gone, makes ready for the new to arrive. In some trees the new bud can be seen at the place where the dead leaf falls, small promises of a spring waiting to arrive.
I haven’t been able to write much of late and I’m sensing a change in the things God is doing in me and around me. The kinds of words I used to write fall like dead leaves on the page. I’m wondering what I should do, wondering what will come next. At home we make a few changes in the schedule and time is freed up. My impulse is to fill it but I think God says, wait.
There is a pruning at the end of a season. A removing of all that is old, done and finished with, then there is a winter wait. Some pruning is painful and other pruning comes as a relief. All pruning is good for the tree and its future growth. When the old wood is cut away the tree looks very bare but we wait. It will grow back again. This is faith. Remain in me.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I do not know what is coming in the seasons ahead but for the first time in my life I really intercede. Where I used to pray for others (list style) at the end of my worship and thanksgiving I now pray longer and without excuse at separate times of day, calling down blessings on surprising people in far off places. And all I can say is, Lord teach me to pray. People I do not know in places I shall never go to, “I’ll pray for you” takes on a new meaning. My own roles at home and church seem to change, less labour of the hands and more pouring out of the soul. A dear neighbour is desperately ill. I sit with a friend and we talk about a family issue that rattles on, no end in sight. The international unrest of the summer spills over into the autumn and visiting preachers in church tell stories of the pastors, persecution and the people far away who are in prison or worse because of their faith.
Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5.17