The Invitations of Autumn: Spiritual Practices for the Season
By Christine Valters Paintner
Each of the seasons offers a great deal of wisdom for the spiritual journey. Autumn is a season of transition, reminding us that our lives are constantly in flux. Of course change is always with us, but autumn brings us to a deeper awareness that we live in a continual cycle of dying and rising. In the Benedictine tradition, one of the commitments is to conversion. Essentially it means being open to the surprise of God throughout your life and therefore open to change. It means believing that God is far bigger than anything you can ever imagine, and so there will always be more dimensions of the sacred to discover.
The autumn leaves changing colors are actually reverting to their original hue as chlorophyll is gradually blocked. As the trees begin to pull energy inward for the coming hibernation of winter, the chlorophyll in the leaves decreases and the vibrant shades we witness are the tree's true color. As autumn begins, we are called to reflect where we are being invited to surrender our masks and become more truly who we already are. With fall's energy of release, we are asked to consider the things, habits, beliefs, and attitudes that we are being called to let go of in the coming days.
The autumnal equinox is the day when the sun rests above the equator, and day and night are divided equally. Autumn's gifts reflect this balance between two energies: the invitation to relinquish and to harvest. Autumn is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender -- what no longer serves us or what gets in the way of being present to the holiness of each moment. Autumn also invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruit of the seeds of dreams we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension, we are reminded that in our letting go, we also find abundance.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this time of year for me is its witness to the beauty found in death. My mother died seven years ago in the month of October, a terrible loss for me. And yet I remember so well those days following her movement into the Great Night. I would witness the earth in its own movement toward death and I was dazzled by its radiance. Crimson, saffron, orange -- colors that seemed to sing of the beauty found in the transition between worlds. Ever since that autumn full of grief, each new autumn reminds me of this wisdom.
The radiant amber light of late afternoon spilling through clouds illuminates autumn branches strung with glittering jewel tones. Crispin Sartwell, in his book Six Names of Beauty describes wabi-sabi, a concept from Japanese culture to describe “the beauty of the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral.” Autumn calls us to remember our own fragility and cherish this beauty.
In many ways, autumn is also a time of new beginnings. School starts, and while we may no longer be students, we might be teachers or parents or otherwise connected to the academic year. Our Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate their new liturgical year right now, a time of introspection, and reflection. May this season offer you a new beginning of your own. Listen for the invitation to open yourself to the surprises God has waiting for you, or to release the mask that hinders you.
Suggested Practice for Autumn:
Walking is a form of prayer for me. Each morning I head to a nearby park and practice being absolutely present to the world. Here I listen for the wisdom that the seasons offer my life. Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual practice that recognizes that walking out in the world calls us to wider horizons, even if that journey is only a few miles.
Consider making time for your own contemplative walk and bring yourself fully present to each step and breath. Ask yourself the questions: How do I walk in this world? How do I want to walk in this world? Allow your body to guide you into a response. Does the way you walk and move through life reflect your most authentic self? If not, how might the season guide you in the act of letting go of what no longer serves you or your relationship to God?
Gather objects along the way -- a brilliant leaf that tumbles in front of you, a stone that feels solid and cool, a broken branch laying on the ground as an offering. Bring them home and lay them in a sacred space, an honoring of the gifts of this season. Continue to listen for their call to you as the autumn unfolds. Let them become a guide for the days ahead.
Visit Christine Valters Paintner's website Abbey of the Arts.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.