Seasons of Life

Connie and I were able to take a few hours this week to take a wonderful and familiar hike in the nearby Harriman State Park area. We like to begin at the Reeves Meadow Ranger Station, which is only about 25 minutes from Ridgewood. Turning onto Seven Lakes Drives opened up a beautiful panorama of fall color and rushing water, a world apart from Gotham City only a few miles away. During a break in our hike, sitting on a stone by the brook, I noticed the last of the dying leaves on one particular tree slowly falling to the ground. That leaf had lived out its life span, changed from green to brown, and returned to the earth to become part of the organic material which would, in turn, nurture the forest floor. Human beings are like leaves in that respect. We too have a lifespan, we go through the seasons of our lives, and we literally change color, or at least our hair does, and then we return to the earth and are absorbed by it. I remember the many times I have quoted the phrase at graveside memorials: “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” Emmanuel is represented by people in all seasons of life, summer, spring, fall and winter, although most of us are either in the “fall” or “winter” of our lives. If we are lucky and relatively healthy, we will enter into the winter season with a quality of life that allows us to enjoy and reflect on the beauty and meaning of life. Carl Jung said that these latter seasons, the second half of life, were especially designed for persons to reflect on and cultivate their “spiritual lives.” After having lived in Florida for so many years, I have so enjoyed experiencing the full range of seasons again that occur in the Mid-Atlantic states. Winter is upon us and it is the time when things “die” or go into hibernation. At the end of December we experience the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (Christmas) and then the days lengthen and we anticipate the rebirth of creation (Easter). This cycle of death and rebirth is emblematic of the spiritual life. In fact, Jesus said that unless a person “dies” they cannot be born again. Spiritual death and rebirth is not a one-time experience but a continual and beautiful cycle in which we can encounter and conquer our own egos and false selves and give birth to the “new man” or “new woman”, the incarnation in our own lives of the loving and compassionate presence of the Christ in us. The holiday season can be, for some, just mindless exercise of frenetic activity. For those who have suffered serious losses over the year, the holidays often only exemplify those losses. This year, I encourage the members of Emmanuel to focus on their own rebirth and renewal and the renewal of our world, which is facing great darkness. The reality of life is that nothing lasts. Leaves, people and even trees have a lifespan but as the Apostle Paul said, “We do not grieve as those who have no hope.” I am so glad that our congregation has made a commitment to go deeper in its daily devotional life and that this initiative is beginning at this time of the year. Together let’s make a commitment to take the time to watch a leaf slowly float to the ground or to be with the gentle stirrings of our own spirits as God speaks to us and nudges toward the deeper life.