While leaning back into the coziness of my driver seat, I felt the woolly embrace of my hounds tooth blazer, the one that I bought at Salvation Army while a second-year student At Duke Divinity School. I had watched the blazer sit on the back of my Equinox’s command chair all summer-long, the weather being too hot to allow me to wear it without sweating through whatever shirt I was wearing at the time.
A slight smile cracked the edges of my lips as I drove to work, thinking about how an otherwise unprofessional outfit that I might wear on any given day instantly receives a boost from this torso covering man purse that I like to wear and fill with half of everything I own. As I came into town the signs of the Season greeted my eyes. An F150 with a lift kit, sitting on top of shiny mud tires, was flying the Trump 2020 flag, making me wonder if it was part of a larger fleet of similar looking trucks that I seemed to see every day. Other signs of the season greeted my eyes as well.
The smile on my face quickly shifted to a terse line in front of a quizzical thought, as I pondered about what happened to summer. It had disappeared in a flurry of smoke from wildfires 3,000 miles to the west and a swirl of hurricane clouds 800 miles to the south. Last night we went to see a mixture of college friends, a quarter mile from our house at Chowan University, who were having a Pagan Mabon celebration for the Autumnal Equinox. After giving them prepackaged pumpkin spice cookies and spending an hour talking about school life behind masks, we went home.
Aside from the harvest celebration, I had stopped thinking about what the coming Season meant. This morning as I drove to church, I noticed the first leaf of Autumn laying on the ground in someone’s driveway, a sign of the season to come. As I drove into the church parking lot, my car bumped and squirmed like a toddler navigating a weedy patch of grass, as it drove over a blanket of newly fallen pecans from the tree that had provided shade all summer long.
Parking my car, I intuitively began to notice how sparse leaves were intermixed with the squirrel food on the ground, much of which had already been sifted through and carried to hidden rodent homes in the hollowed trunks of trees around this crowded church campus. Soon, these low-hanging tree blankets would be threadbare. Everything that is still green is on its way to change very soon.
The trees, feeling the signs of the times, begin to enact their innate technology. They don’t have intelligence like humans, but they know exactly what they’re doing. Dutifully, and without telling a soul, they communicate with each other, that it is time to cease their sugar-making mission, which had made the world a better and more beautiful place through the hot months.
This canopy, under which I had preached many parking lot sermons during the quarantine months, was about to change. The leaves would dry up and fall off soon, as the trees began to sift through what was necessary and what was not needed for the coming months. They have no protection, other than what they provide themselves, and so they are beginning to store energy, to excrete what is excess baggage, in order to create an internal antifreeze that can withstand the long winter ahead. Deep within their roots and trunks, they will have whatever is needed to weather the harshest of colds, and they both anticipate going it alone, but also with the community of individuals in the Grove.
I had never thought about how much humans are like trees. Even without knowing it, even without speaking it verbally, people sense that a change of seasons is coming, and in fact has already begun. Like the giant pecan tree that stands as a greeter in front of one of the churches I serve, the community members around it are dropping, like leaves, things that are not necessary for the coming cold. They will not be completely Spartan, like the inert, brown hulk, sitting with frozen outstretched limbs, but they will make sure to change the mechanical process through which they interact with the world. Less sweetness will be made and more energy will be stored for self-preservation.
One of the differences between trees and humans is that our interconnection depends on the ability to prize our connections and systems over self-interest. The human ecology says, “I will support this church or this organization, because I believe in it, even If I don’t directly see a benefit to myself.” And yet, with the changing of the seasons, it is much more challenging to convince people to support the church or any other thing that would call forth precious resources for self-preservation.
Of course, I’m painting with broad strokes here, and the only reason I am driving up to the church is because many people have worked hard and self-sacrificially supported our mission of being and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. What I am making note of is the winds that are blowing and the seasons that are changing and how they hit us.
Because of the changing of the seasons and the tendency and temptation to hoard resources, I celebrate all the more the people who are able to give sacrificially and look past themselves.
We may be tempted to act like trees in the act of getting rid of what feels superfluous and creating our own internal antifreeze, so that we can weather the wilderness of whatever the next season of life brings on. Indeed, many of us build bunkers and hunker down in echo chambers to provide this self comfort.
But if anybody reads this, I encourage you to exercise your humanity and share a little bit more with the people you are connected to, whether if it is through a church or some other organization. It will make a distinct difference to those who are not as well-resourced as you. I realize that it is Autumn, and winter is coming. Let us face the winter together.