Autumn has come late this year. We are nearly to the last month of the year, and the vibrant reds and yellows are only now emerging in our little corner of the mid-west. Many trees have lost most or all of their leaves with no more than a muted tribute to this season I love the most.
It’s ironic how much I love this season, nicknamed fall, given my generally vice-like grip on the things that it is time to let go of. I wish I could enjoy all the colors of the changing leaves without ever having to grieve their dying and watch them drop curled and dry and grey-brown like the hard, cold ground they cover.
This metaphor of the tree is a dear recurring companion on my spiritual journey. I’ve written about it before. In a recent prayer time, this phrase caught my unsuspecting attention:
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. – Ephesians 3:17, NLT
I began to think about this season of letting go, of releasing those elements once so vital to nourishment and growth that have since served their purpose and become unnecessary as the environment slowly changes.
Trees: A Metaphor
Losing the leaves–like all times of transition–can be an uncomfortable time of vulnerability and exposure. As the leaves drop, the branches once hidden are suddenly revealed. The tree does not release all the leaves at once; each leaf has its time, yet they all eventually fall away. Sometimes a strong wind hurries the process along sooner than expected, loosening the last tender connection in a shocking motion. Other times the leaves remain dying on the branch too long, drooping and drab alongside the bright colors and stark branches of other trees.
A tree that has let go of all its dying leaves may feel naked and bare, but it has a remarkable beauty all its own. All the knotted, wobbly, twisted branches are revealed entirely as they are–as they have been created to be. We see the tree’s true shape and form, standing tall, reaching out and up, braving the harshest conditions with resolute stillness. The branches have nothing to hide or protect them for a time, but this season of rest and preparation is necessary for new growth to be possible again.
Even when the leaves change and fall to the ground, even when the branches are exposed to all the elements, even when the ground itself freezes all around the tree–the roots remain, sustaining the tree with unchangeable consistency through seasons and storms and fires and decades and even centuries. The roots grow down and down, far below the surface, deep into darkness where all that has fallen away and died has seeped in and enriched the soil to feed the tree.
Death Enriches the Soil
I began to think about all the parts of myself that have died to bring more life. All my unpleasant experiences and wounded places and discarded, outgrown understandings of God and myself–each sacrificial, necessary, inevitable death only enriches the soil of God’s love in which I am deeply rooted and out of which I grow and change and become.
I am a tree, rooted and established in the rich soil of God’s love, and I am strong.
So, my fellow pilgrims, what are you being invited to let go of in this season of change? What new growth might you be invited to anticipate in the darkness and waiting of this Advent season?