How the Season of Fall Can Inspire Our Prayer
Ah, fall! That cozy season of pumpkins, candles, sweater weather, and hearty stews. I cherish our family’s fall traditions and love decorating our house for the season. This year, as I went about putting away our usual décor, I thought about all that fall represents. In fall, we hold together the bounty of harvest and the reality of death. We celebrate the abundant fruits of our summer labor at the same time that we say goodbye to the gorgeous flowers and foliage that begins to fade and fall. We are left with a bare-bones sketch of the beauty that is summer. While we may mourn the beauty that was, there is also beauty in seeing the support that lies beneath all the foliage and flowers.
In many ways, this tension between bounty and death is reminiscent of the spiritual life. We thank God for His many gifts, rejoicing in the bounty of His harvest and the fruits we reap from our cooperation with His work; and at the same time, we are asked to let go of all that is no longer for us. Sometimes, we are even asked to let go of the fruits of our labor. We must peel back the surface layers of our spirit to see what lies beneath; upon what foundations, what supports, are we leaning? This balance between holding what has been given to us and freely letting it go to make room for what is next – this is the balance we seek in a healthy prayer life. With that balance in mind, here are some questions to inspire our prayer in the season of fall.
What harvest am I reaping from this summer?
Before examining what I need to let go of, I first take a contemplative look at the gifts in front of me. Over the summer, what did God do in my life? What graces emerged? I count among my blessings the long hours of daylight in which to visit the park with my toddler and all the sweet conversations we had on our way to and from the park, all the things I learned about her in those sacred minutes. I thank God for the quiet yet profound moments watching my newborn son explore his world, find his voice, reach for his toes, smile up at me. I also think of the moments that stretched my patience, tested my charity, and required me to rely on God’s peace when I had lost my own. I allow space and time to simply rest in these cherished memories with God, letting God speak to me about them. How did these moments bring me closer to being the person God created me to be? How will I take these growing virtues with me into the next season?
Where did God ask me to let go of something, handing control over to Him?
Whether or not we are ready, fall comes and summer passes away into the dormancy of winter. So, too, in our journey with God, we are asked to let go of pieces of our life that no longer bring us closer to Him. Sometimes these are cherished aspects of our identity. This spring and summer, I resigned from my job as I welcomed my second child into the world amidst a difficult pregnancy. While I did not feel exactly ready to let go of my work identity, I have come to realize how that loss allowed for new growth in other areas of my life. I have extra space and time for my family, friends, parish, and community. Trusting that God would bless even the letting go of a job I loved at a Catholic retreat house, where I had felt a clear calling to be, was hard work. But Scripture tells us that there is “a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away” and that “God makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:6, 11). What better time than fall to reflect on what we have sought and lost, what we keep and what we must cast away? God will make clear what these things are if we ask with an open heart and stay silent, ready to listen for His reply.
What might emerge from the empty space we create in letting go?
Letting go of parts of ourselves or our lives is hard work. It is even harder when we are unsure what might become of the empty space left behind. We cannot supply this answer on our own; we must wait for God to show us what is coming next. We trust that God is in fact waiting for us in the silence, ready to whisper into our ears who we might be if we let Him do His work of creating us anew.
In the season of fall, we can think of the deepest parts of ourselves as the “branches” beneath the showy leaves that will inevitably fall away with the passing of time. Those pieces of ourselves that go beyond our roles and responsibilities and the ways we might describe ourselves to others: I’m a writer, editor, spiritual director. These “identities” that we most readily use to describe ourselves are often the very identities we lose in a transition. When they fall away, what are we left with? This can be frightening to ask.
What we will always find is that God Himself lives at the innermost part of us, and it is from His life that our new life will spring. Just as Cora Evans wrote in describing the Mystical Humanity of Christ, our souls are tabernacles in which God comes to live His life anew. Jesus IS the truest part of my self. What I find in the empty space is His divine life within me. That is the invitation of fall-inspired prayer – to find Jesus within and let His life inspire ours.