“All Shall Be Well”
In a conversation with one of my sisters last week, she bemoaned the end of summer. “It’s over. It’s fall already.” When I pointed out that we had, at that point, at least four weeks until the official start of fall, she replied, “Nope. Farmer’s Almanac says we’ll have an early fall and a long, very cold winter.”
Keeping in mind that this sister is generally less than optimistic about most things, I changed the subject. But her gloomy prediction stuck with me.
I try to relish the last days of summer. Most of my life has been organized around the academic year—first as a student and then as a teacher. If you’ve taught, you know exactly what I mean. In May, you breathe a deep sigh of relief and look forward to those long, grading-free days ahead. And sometimes in August—even if you like to teach—you begin to dread gearing up for the beginning of the school year.
Some of my teaching friends (all now retired!) began talking about the approaching end of summer, weeks ahead of time. Like my sister, they focused on the unavoidable march towards tomorrow, instead of the gifts of today. The more they complained about it, the more determined I was not to dwell on it. So… even though I’ve been retired for seven years, that mindset has continued.
You may have heard of Brother Lawrence’s “Practice of the Presence of God”—a practice which Caussade later called “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” Both refer to the practice of intentionally focusing on God in the present moment, no matter what we are doing, or what is happening within or around us. Of course, that is sometimes very hard to do!
It has perhaps been harder since COVID first entered our lives. I find I’ve developed a kind of dread about what the next wave will be. Another strain? Another virus altogether? And how bad will it be? You may be living with the same questions. As Americans, our belief in our security, our well-being, has suddenly become less sure. And it’s hard to live in the moment when concerns about tomorrow show up, threatening our peace.
Added to this is the fact that as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more aware that I have far more days behind me than ahead. The end of my life on earth is in closer view than it was 20 years ago!
But our Creator God has given me a way to see the bigger picture. I find that I take comfort in the constancy of God’s design…one season, with its own joys and challenges, followed inevitably by the next (notwithstanding climate change!). If you know me, you won’t be surprised that I take my comfort from Nature—not only for the peace it affords, but also for the reminder that life will go on.
Yes…some plants and animals are showing signs of fall. The squirrels are already collecting the buckeyes from our Horse Chestnut tree. The flowers are nearly done blooming. And occasionally, I notice a splash of red or yellow in the landscape. But life is a constant cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, year after year. And, being part of Creation—part of God’s Big Story—we are included in that cycle.
When I feel anxious or frightened about that, all I have to do is go outside and find a tree—also not a surprise to those who know me. When I throw my arms around a tree trunk (Please don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!), I feel a deeply physical connection, as if I’m being hugged back by something bigger and older, a living being that has experienced that cycle for years—decades, or even centuries—and will continue to do so until Nature—or humans—end its life. And even in its death, it will provide for new life.
The Bible constantly reminds us not only of the beauty of God’s Creation, but also of the lessons it teaches. In Job 12:7-9, we read: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all humankind.” And Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”
The passage of time is inevitable. We will experience both peace and pain, beauty and ugliness, life and death. I am comforted to know that the tree I am hugging has been here long before me, and will most likely remain long after. It has experienced the miracle of life and rebirth again and again. Nature reminds me that, as Walt Whitman wrote: “The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, and if ever there was it led forward life.”
Fall is coming. And, much as we love summer, we can look forward to the beauties of what lies ahead. That is, after all, the cycle of life for each one of us. But when we take the time to be present to God in this time, in this place, in this life, our concerns for tomorrow melt away—if only for a while.
Friend, where do you find your peace? What do you return to, time and again, to deepen and renew your connection to God? What strengthens your deeply felt sense that ultimately, as Teresa of Avila writes, “All shall be well?”
Summer continues. Fall is coming.
May you take joy in all that they offer. Today, and tomorrow, and always.