We’ve come to the end of the summer. Fall is nearly upon us.
It’s a season rife with imagery, symbols that signify transition, change, a turning of the page into something more somber and sparse. The leaves begin to lose their summer greens and become red, yellow, orange, brown. School buses appear on our streets, students trudging down sidewalks laden with bookbags and lunch boxes. There are new projects commencing at work as things begin to pick up after the quiet months of summer. We turn our attention to picking apples, pumpkins and all the festivities of the autumn holiday season.
My sense of fall is heavily colored by the east coast of the United States. What symbols come to mind for you? How do you pass through this time of transition?
I want you to hold in your mind one image that this season stirs in you. Does this image evoke hope and anticipation? Joy and excitement? Anxiety and stress? Doubt and sadness? Something else?
We’re a people of story; our faith is built upon imagery and iconography and tales passed down from one generation to the next. Those stories make us feel something; images evoke emotion, then meaning, then action.
But because we know how the story ends — God wins, right? — it’s easy to overlook the significance these symbols held in the telling, in the experiencing.
We see the last leaf flutter from the tree, brown and crispy and dead, and know that the story continues in the spring. The tree will find new life. But what if we didn’t know that? What if we truly had only that symbol of decay to consider?
I think of the image of the stone rolled away from the tomb, and Mary Magdalene standing at its entrance, shocked. She’d come to mourn the death of her friend. What does she find instead?
That image of the empty tomb, the stone cast to the side, is one that might fill us with hope. We know it to mean that God has won, that Jesus has risen, that hope and joy triumph over death and sorrow.
But in that moment, the image of the rolled stone did not mean those things. It likely stirred in Mary panic, anxiety, stress, uncertainty. What we know to mean hope meant nothing of the sort to Mary in that instant. It wasn’t until some time passed, until Jesus came to her, spoke her name.
Told her not to be afraid.
As we journey through this time of transition, I invite you to hold onto that symbol of the season, the one you called to mind. Consider that the image as you see it now may mean something else, something new in the span of a few days, weeks or months.
Your sorrow or stress or worry may give way to joy. Or, you might have the opportunity to trade a success for something less than — and to trust more deeply in our God of surprises as a result.
How might you make yourself more available to respond to these inevitable changes, to God’s invitation?
In God’s Peace,
Eric Clayton, his wife Ally and their two children are parishioner’s at St. Ignatius. Eric is the Deputy Director of Communications for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.