Why does it seem that every new autumn is shorter than the last? The distance between summer’s end and the advent of winter narrows as one ages. It’s a difficult reality because for many, myself included, autumn is their favorite season of the year.
The first stretch of chilly nights brings relief from the summer heat. The cool relief in the created world mirrors the hope of relief in our inner worlds, a season of calm for the soul. Summer is lively and exuberant; autumn signals the gift of silence in creation. Autumn revives our senses to the mystery of God’s creation. Bright days, blue skies, and summer greens are so familiar from June to August that one takes them for granted.
But then late September brings the faintest tint of yellows and reds on green leaves and our souls awaken in awe. We long for the peak foliage of October, knowing it will not stay. The days of brightest ambers, golds, and crimsons are ever so brief. More than two weeks of peak foliage is an extraordinary year. The grass withers, flowers fade, and leaves release their delicate hold from a life-giving limb. Lift a scarlet leaf in your hands while you have the chance. Study its flawlessly composed veins and the microdrops of dew anointing each blade. Allow God’s supreme devotion to smallness to rouse your imagination. Soon those colors will change again, returning to a monochromatic, dark earth.
The glory of autumn warms our hearts, but winter steals the spectrum of colors that regenerated our spirits. To enjoy autumn in its fullness means preparing for its absence. Creation cannot hold onto the peak of its glory. We glimpse a spectrum of magnificent tones for mere days. Yet we were made for a world of unending days, filled with light and color that never fade.
Celtic Christians had a name for moments and places where the presence of God in heaven intersects in vivid, undeniable ways on earth. The Celts called these physical locations and moments ‘thin places.’ In some moments, in some locations, it is as if the veil between heaven and earth is thin. In ways that are precede thought and speech, we know that God is present by his Holy Spirit. He pulls the veil of his glory back for just a few moments so that we see the splendor of his beauty within our world. The difficulty in the spiritual life is that these moments are few. In this world, we cannot sustain unending days of beholding the glory of God. We must be transfigured in Christ to dwell in his new creation.
Until then, the glory we behold in autumn is one of God’s thin places, an intersection of heaven and earth in our own space and time. Autumn is a sign that the Kingdom of God breaks into this world now, not only at the end of time. The Holy Spirit reveals the glory of the Lord in these thin moments and places. Autumn trains our eyes to see the Kingdom of God that is coming.
So instead of lamenting the passage of autumn, I’m learning to receive the gift of autumn’s changes, remembering that I was not made for this world. The splendor of God’s new creation breaks into this creation in these marvelous October days. I will be a witness of these moments of God’s in-breaking glory, but I will not hold onto its passing beauty too tightly. I can let go of the hope that my soul will be fully satisfied in this world. I can embrace the beauty of this world only by clinging to my ultimate hope—the hope of a new creation where the Beautiful One, Jesus Christ, will make all things glorious for unending days.