Friday, November 30, 2018

Autumnal (and Rather Pagan) Thoughts on the Making of “All Things New”

In his latest book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, author and educator Parker Palmer writes at one point of the "endless interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising" that the seasons of the natural world, autumn in particular, instruct us in.

Parker's musings remind me of Thomas Moore's contention that the "circling of nature, inner and outer, may be the best way to find our substance."

Of course, such looking toward and into nature for insight, wisdom, and truth reflects a very pagan attitude toward and response to life, creation, and the human condition. To be clear: like other spiritual paths, the pagan path seeks, discerns, and responds to the Divine Presence. What is perhaps unique about paganism, however, is that it is a spiritual path that recognizes the Divine Presence in all things, though particularly in the natural world – the elements, the cycle of the seasons, and the inherent diversity of life. Paganism recognizes and celebrates that there is an elemental power and beauty in all of these things, a grounding power and beauty that paradoxically transcends religious doctrine and dogma.

I was reminded of all this as I read that part of Parker's book which I share below. This excerpt is accompanied by images of autumnal beauty that I captured over the last two months or so around Minnehaha Creek, close to my home in south Minneapolis.


I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about the fall and its sensuous delights.

Then I began to understand a simple fact: all the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as earth prepares for yet another uprising of green.

Today, as I weather the late autumn of my own life, I find nature a trustworthy guide. It’s easy to fixate on everything that goes to the ground as time goes by: the disintegration of a relationship, the disappearance of good work well done, the diminishment of a sense of purpose and meaning. But as I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the hardest of times.

Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the “Road Closed” sign turned me toward terrain that I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt as though something was dying, and so it was. Yet deep down, amid all the falling, the seeds of new life were always being silently and lavishly sown.

. . . Perhaps death possesses a grace that we who fear dying, who find it ugly and even obscene, cannot see. How shall we understand nature’s testimony that dying itself – as devastating as we know it can be – contains the hope of a certain beauty?

The closest I’ve ever come to answering that question begins with these words from Thomas Merton, “There is in all visible things . . . a hidden wholeness.” [Thomas Merton, “Hagia Sophia,” in A Thomas Merton Reader, ed. Thomas P. McDonnell (Doubleday: 1989), 506.]

In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight. Diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites: they are held together in the paradox of the “hidden wholeness.” In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other – they co-habit and co-create in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, just as our well-being depends on breathing in and breathing out.

. . . When I give myself over to organic reality – to the endless interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising – the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so. Though I still grieve as beauty goes to ground, autumn reminds me to celebrate the primal power that is forever making all things new in me, in us, and in the natural world.

– Parker Palmer
Excerpted from On the Brink of Everything:
Grace, Gravity and Getting Old

pp. 165-167, 168

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thomas Moore on the Circling of Nature as the Best Way to Find Our Substance
Autumn . . . Within and Beyond
O Sacred Season of Autumn
"Thou Hast Thy Music Too"
Autumn Beauty
Autumn Leaves
Autumn Hues
Autumn Dance
The Prayer Tree Aflame
Autumn . . . Within and Beyond (2016)

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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