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08 / autumn : letting go

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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

Remembering God

September 28, 2019



 

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, snapshot-memories of my childhood sneak up on me. Today, I saw myself, nine years old, pumping my spindly legs back and forth on the old metal swing set left behind by previous owners of that house. I swung, face pointed towards the cornfield that flanked the back of the old chain-link fence. I faced the field out of fear. It seemed then, that the field might swallow me while I wasn’t looking.

I blink slow, and the memory expands.

The steady whine of the s-hooks that connect the swing to the crossbeam creak in cadence with each pass I make beneath the beam; a metallic metronome keeping time with the rhythm of my effort. The air is musty with the scent of decay.  My small sneakers dangle above the dirt patch where the grass has long been rubbed away from the repeated dragging of toes. The sun holds its two o’clock position, meanwhile in the background, the thrumming of a lawnmower rises and falls. The afternoon breeze runs chilly fingers between the drying corn stalks, then up my calves and across my shoulders. Fall elbows its way in. The beige stalks sway, pressing harder against the fence, pressing closer to me.

Autumn is a slow funeral procession ambling through my own backyard. Everything is drying and dying.

In this present time, many moons later, the waxing gibbous moon hangs like a golden egg in an inky sky. That frightened girl from my memory on the swing is old enough now to know that some deaths are perfectly perfunctory. She’s learned that sometimes, dying is an unavoidable side-effect of obedience. The natural Creation cannot resist the will of its Creator. New things will spring up from the places where the corn has dried. Resurrection is real, even when it feels like a fable. This mystery happens without fanfare, while we’re sleeping, while we’re chasing dreams, while we’re busy living perfectly ordinary lives.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

Death is necessary, and knowing this helps, but it doesn’t eliminate the fear of what might be lost in transition. We live straddling eternity—one foot here on terra firma, the other touching heaven—we live in the tension of now-and-not-yet.

Transition seasons can feel like thin places for those who believe that death is only a doorway.

Between the swing and the house, in full view of the oppressive corn field, sat an old screened in porch. We had a chair or two, and a small table with a couple of drying plants potted in hard soil. I played out there, mostly alone. I took bits of plant matter, and picked out the tiny styrene balls from the potting soil, and added water from the hose and the severed heads of dandelions or clover flowers and concocted a soup that I pretended to drink. It smelled of the earth, but in my imagination, it had the power to snuff out my fears. With every fake sip of this soup, I imagined that I could slip beneath the veil. Imagination, my shield against an unspeakable darkness that always felt too close in those small years.

Fear has always been a too-close companion.

 Autumn has always been my favorite season, but I can’t seem to shake the melancholy it brings with it. Recently, as I flipped through my old journals, I noticed a familiar theme occurring in my personal ramblings during the months of September and October. With all the glory of the earth robed in her transitional colors, Autumn blazes, ringed with a burnt orange that feels like fire.

Autumn is a shedding season. A refining. An end making way for a new beginning. Her glory, enfolded in the mystery of transition.

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. The surface of mystery is not smooth, any more than the planet is smooth.”[1]

The paradox of Autumn is that while God’s hand seems so obvious in the coloring of the leaves and the brilliance of the harvest moon, His face remains hidden as the ground receives her blanket, woven out of dead leaves, acorn tops and brittle branches that give way in the gusts of midnight cold-fronts rolling in.

Fear of what may come next makes me forget the nearness of God, but in Autumn, perhaps it is God’s back we see pass before us.

We are rattled by it. We do not come out unscathed. Un-altered. The transition leads to transformation, to revelation, to death and to resurrection—it’s begs us to remember God. Behold, what new thing is God working in the stripping or His Creation? What new thing is He working in our own letting go?

What good is there in scratching-and-sniffing at old memories? Isn’t it easier to leave the past in the past and move forward? I ask myself these questions when the little girl on the swing comes to mind. I give it real thought when I remember my irrational fear of the cornfield. I tell myself to let the leaves fall. Let them decay and fertilize the soil for whatever new thing God is weaving in between what you can see, and the mystery. Remember that God is near, and far—accept that He is both visible and invisible. It is easier to leave the past in the past but when it surfaces in a certain season, like a buoy that refuses to sink, it’s worth paying attention to.

Some years ago, when I sat across from a counselor in a small cry-room off the back of a sanctuary in a church not my own, I laid my memories bare before a stranger and she invited me to look for Christ in the picture. Where do you think God was in that moment?—she’d ask me. It was an exercise intended to lead me away from fear, towards healing. I couldn’t always place Him. My first thought about the girl on the swing is always, initially at least, punctuated by fear. But when I remember to look for Him, I could imagine the gentle hands of Jesus against the small of my back, nudging me forward then offering gentle resistance upon my return. I didn’t see Him then, when my fear overwhelmed me, but I believe He was there, because His Word says so. Behold, I am with you always…[2]

Always.

Even in transition. Even in the unknown. Even in death and loss and fear and sorrow. Always— in doubt and discouragement and grief—whether the veil is parted, or sewn shut. In the barrenness of Autumn, God remains. Even the dark is not dark to Him.  

[1] Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper Collins, New York, 1974.

[2] Matthew 28:20



The featured image -“The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon” – is (c) Lancia E. Smith. It is used with glad permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. 



 

Kris Camealy

comments

  1. Jody Collins

    September 30th, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    oh my word… there with you on the swing in the sunset, here with you in the now and not yet. This made me weep, Kris. He is with us always.

  2. Shawna Rash

    October 2nd, 2019 at 7:45 am

    One of the most poignant and beautiful things I’ve ever read evoking so many emotions! Tears as I’m reminded Jesus was always with me. Thank you Kris for sharing your tender heart with us…a gift!

  3. Bronwyn Jardin

    October 2nd, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Autumn: “we are rattled by it. We do not come out unscathed. Un-altered.” from my young adult years to this time of my life, this has been my truth as well. Can’t explain why, but the fading year has always brought more crumbling, trembling, and dying in little ways than any other season. Perhaps you’ve been gifted with an insight, that we as God’s creation, like the cornfields, trees and bushes, we living things are designed to surrender to the increasing darkness of the year. And your words always point to the hope before us, the Resurrected Christ, everpresent, no matter the season. Thank you, dear Kris!❤️

  4. Kristen McGinnis

    October 3rd, 2019 at 6:32 am

    Amazing! Encouraging!

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