Fall is a pensive time for me. The transformation of summer into autumn, the shortening of days, the dipping of temperatures, the return of sweatshirts and sweaters to my wardrobe — all of these seem to encourage lingering over a cup of coffee as I watch the hummingbirds make what will soon be their final trips to my feeder before they head south.
This time of year, many think of the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 thesis on the Wittenberg door. My emotions on the continental reformation have not become any less tangled over the years. I find it hard to celebrate a man who is the figurehead for splintering the western church, regardless of how badly it needed reforming.
Twenty years ago in September, Rich Mullins’ life came to an end on a roadside in Illinois. Few people have had such an impact on my faith, or have been a companion over so much of the road. His music continues to inspire, comfort, and challenge me. If my life had a soundtrack, Rich would be a large chunk of it.
On October 9, 2013, my mom died of some type of a rapidly advancing brain disorder. My wife and I were able to spend the last couple weeks of her life at her bedside with my dad. Memories of the time are still clear in my mind, both in the hospital and away from it. Leslie and I were training for a half marathon at the time, so we ran the unpaved roads near my parents’ house in the mornings before heading to the hospital. Those runs stick in my mind, with the turning leaves and cool Michigan temperatures.
It has been strange to realize that with the exception of my Dad, all of my family tree is downstream from me. Everyone else has passed on. Mom’s death brought my own mortality home to me even more than my time spent in Iraq. There is a strain in Christian formation that encourages the remembrance of one’s own mortality and the Desert Fathers advocated it frequently. It is good to counterbalance our youth-glorifying, death-denying culture, but because it is counter-cultural, it just makes me feel a bit more alone on October mornings.
Birds make their way south, dressed mostly in more somber winter plumages. Mating and rearing of young are past for another year, so they depart to warmer areas. Next year, they will return anew, clad once again in striking plumage and full of activity as they seek to mate and nest and feed young.
Just as autumn quietly descends into winter, so our mortal lives all must end. But that is not the whole story. Spring shall come, and we shall be clothed in immortality. We shall be raised again to new life. It is good and right to ponder our own mortality and fallenness. It makes the promise of spring that much more amazing. Our task for now is to find beauty in the turning leaves.