Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Autumn Glory

Here in Maryland, as I write these words, it’s October and autumn’s glory is unfolding before our eyes.  It begins slowly; we notice an isolated tree starting to change color and then day-by-day it quietly spreads; color seemingly descends from the sky.  The highest branches often turn first (the top of the canopy is more exposed) but the Artist of Autumn continues to work until the entire landscape, which was lush and green not all that long ago, is now afire in hues of orange, yellow, gold, and red.  The display only lasts a short time before the brighter colors give way to the dull hues of November and the barrenness of the winter months sets in—when only the hardy pines and other conifers stay green. 

The whole process happens without us giving it much conscious thought. We go on about our daily routines of living, and then suddenly, one day we are driving along, and we look up at just the right time and a patch of color peeking out from the green catches our attention and captivates our imagination.  A while later, perhaps we come around a bend and behold a scenic vista overlooking a valley with the Sun hitting it at just the right angle—and we are undone.  With the Psalmist we echo:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God… the firmament declares his handiwork. —Psalm 19:1

Science can explain what’s going on.  Triggered by longer nights and cooler temperatures, deciduous trees start to get ready for winter.  The photosynthetic activity wanes, and the chlorophyll pigment that produces the green color gives way to other chemicals present in the leaves that lead to the colors we associate with autumn. The exact timing of the change and intensity of the colors vary from year to year depending on the weather conditions experienced during the summer and fall, but we can count on the fact that come October the leaves are going to start to change color and we’ll be treated to autumnal splendor for yet another year.

After that, the trees will drop their leaves and hunker down for the winter—and we will all be raking like crazy in a few weeks J. In the winter, the trees around here will look pretty dead, but, of course, they really aren’t.  They are just lying dormant for a season; they actually need this time to prepare for spring and the next season of growth.  Just as we can count on the leaves falling in the fall, assuming the tree is healthy, you can expect that come next spring, buds will appear and new leaves will follow as the whole cycle of life begins anew. 

So science has a pretty good handle on what happens to the trees, how it happens, and even when it will happen, but it doesn’t begin to explain why it happens the way it does. No, delving into the why question requires something deeper. It takes faith[1] to ask why—even if the question often goes unanswered.

Have you ever wondered why autumn unfolds as it does? It certainly didn’t have to unfold this way each year.  God the creator didn’t have to design these trees so that in the process of them doing what they were created to do and hunkering down for the winter months, we humans are treated to a spectacular display every autumn.    But God has put this in place, almost as if he knew that we would enjoy it so.  And the Almighty’s hunch must have been on target—try getting a room anywhere in the Shenandoah Valley right now! 

When we view life through the eyes of faith, a whole new dimension of reality dawns.  The glory of autumn is no accident; it is a glimpse of the glory of God.

Glory is the essence of what something or who someone is.

The glory of autumn.
Every tree in the forest is unique in the way it changes color in the fall.  We can say that each tree reflects God’s glory in its own distinct way.  By itself, it has beauty that we recognize when we see it, but when it joins with an entire forest, that beauty is magnified and we get the views that take our breath away—we behold the glory of autumn

If it’s true for trees, then how much more must it be true for human beings—the pinnacle of creation.  By ourselves we are wondrously made, but when we join together with one another and connect with God, we rise to a whole different level of living—we come fully alive.

Says St. Irenaeus, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive and the life of a human being is the vision of God.”  With due deference to the Saint, I might say it this way: 

God is glorified when we are fully ourselves and we become most fully ourselves as we behold God’s glory and reflect it to the world in our own unique way.

In Jesus Christ, we see the perfect reflection of God—the glory of God. We learn from the example of Jesus and others in Scripture, who each saw glimpses of that glory and reflected it in their own unique way in a specific place and time. (Hebrews 11 contains a list of examples.)  But we also see plenty of glimpses of glory in this life.  There are people, places, and moments along our journey that help us connect with and experience God more fully. Autumn leaves are just one example of the glory that surrounds us—if we can just train our eyes to see.  I urge us all to take time to discover and savor those gifts.  Live life with full intensity.  Become all God has created you to be.   

Reflect God’s glory to the world! —2 Corinthians 3:18

[1] While I say takes faith in something to ask why, I also recognize that some would not call that something “God”.

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