Gold and Scarlet Offerings
by Sue Fulmore
It begins, the leisurely arrival of fall creeping across the landscape, setting the world aglow in hues of amber, gold and scarlet. Squirrels are gathering and home-building for winter, perennials are storing energy deep in their roots for their reappearance next spring. Growing things of all sorts are liberally spreading their seeds, guaranteeing a return after the long winter months.
The overflowing abundance of the garden has been harvested, put-up, frozen and canned. The plot lies naked and dormant waiting for the covering of leaves and then snow. After the frenetic activity of spring and summer growth, it’s as if the world is taking a long exhale, readying itself for a good long nap.
I feel this in my body as well. The days of gardening – cutting, trimming, digging- are coming to a close for this year. The days shorten, life begins to slow with the pace of nature. The chill in the air has ushered in more space to breathe and to ruminate.
Richard Rohr tells us spiritual transformation follows a pattern from order through disorder and finally to reorder.[i] As we age, and travel through the various stages of life, surrendering to this process allows us to grow in wisdom, and to develop our trust muscles. Confidence is built as we find, repeatedly, our way through disorder and arrive at a place with new vistas and possibilities.
The deciduous trees will soon begin to relinquish their leafy finery and become bare; branches exposed to the elements. If they sought to hold onto their leaves this would endanger them; their branches would break under the weight of the snow on the canopy and the trunk would not receive the life-giving moisture it needs. Life is preserved within the letting go.
Much like the trees, I recognize my need to let go – of the seasons passed, roles I have outgrown, the “normal” way of things and surrender to the process of transformation. The discomfort of exposure makes me want to cover up or distract, to avoid the pain which comes from shedding old skins.
I find myself feeling stripped bare these days. The life I knew is no longer. So much has been removed, leaving me feeling vulnerable and exposed. I recently left my job and the rhythms which used to support and contain me are gone. I find myself feeling adrift, looking for an anchor, a steadying structure for my days. I feel the disordering taking place.
My children have grown and left home, wandered far in pursuit of their dreams. Intellectually I know this is the good and natural progression of things. When my houseplants no longer have space for their roots to spread, they suffer and fail to flourish. I know this is true of my children as well. They need space to grow, a new habitat in which to thrive. Yet it feels like a rending, a tearing apart: slices of myself have been removed and are now miles away housed in the bodies of my children. I learn to navigate this new reality; our relationships shift and grow. As I gradually release the loss of what was, space opens up for what is yet to come.
In letting go of all I have been holding onto; I am able to release the seeds which were hidden there. Finally, they can fall to the ground to sprout and grow into the “new” I could never envision or anticipate. The latent beauty in those clenched seeds can now be released. How much might I miss if I fail to surrender?
Is it the hiddenness of this impending season that I fear? This time of abiding in unseen places where the difficult inner transformation takes place? Like the bulbs as they lay hidden underground, dormant but storing up energy for their blooming, this time of dormancy may be required of me as well. There is no glory without first a burying. I am reminded of the words of Jesus,
Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.[ii]
I so often want to skip this step of growth. I want beauty to be fully formed and blooming without the need to submit to hidden, solitary work. How hard it is to eschew the busyness of life for the uncomfortable, lonely places where real work is done. To mine the depths of the true inner self, which often gets buried under the image we show to the world, is hard and holy work. In turning away from distractions, embracing my place in the loamy ground of silence and hiddenness, I can be fed, grown, and prepared to live a life of love, to have something of value to offer the world.
What if we turned aside from the constant distractions of life, the pulling of our attention to the urgent rather than what is essential? Making room instead for silence, reflection, and the examining of our lives? What if we took time to acknowledge the ways we have failed to love well, to confess, and ask the One who is love for help? How would we change if we counted the ways we have seen beauty and abundance? What if we embraced our status as beginners and allowed ourselves to be led? What if each day instead of listening to the clamoring of our minds, we made space for “that other larger, stronger, quieter life (to) come flowing in”[iii]? There may be nothing tangible to be seen from these times but it is here that meaningful work is happening under the surface.
At the edge of this season I feel hesitant to step off into the unknown, into what feels like chaos. There is a picture hanging in my home, of a boardwalk heading toward the sea. I can see where the level, much-travelled path comes to an end, and the wild sand dunes and sea beckon. Do I hang on, like my life depends on it, to all that is comfortable, safe? Or to I throw myself into the space trusting that the safety net of God’s love is spread wide to catch me?
As the trees offer up their leaves as a gift to the earth, they will settle and form a shelter for tender roots, during the long winter. They will become part of the nourishment for soil and plants, an investment in what is yet to come. The gold and scarlet offerings are, in the end, signs of hope.
[ii] John 12:24-25 MSG
[iii] Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, Editors. HarperCollins, 1993.).
Sue Fulmore is a freelance writer and speaker, seeking to use words to awaken mind and soul to the realities of the present. Some of her work has been published at Red Letter Christians, The Perennial Gen, Convivium Magazine, Joyful Life Blog, and Asbury Seminary Soul Care Community. Like a prospector panning for gold, she uses her pen to uncover beauty and truth hidden just below the surface of our lives. She is the mother of two adult daughters and lives in sunny Alberta, Canada with her retired husband. You can find her at https://www.instagram.com/suefulmore/and https://www.suefulmore.com/