One of the ways that I connect with God is through nature, which I learned while on Sabbatical. In retrospect, it makes sense why the two-and-a-half years spent commuting to and from the city of Los Angeles was such a spiritually dry season for me.
In November, I had the opportunity to join a group of beautiful women out in Tennessee for Refresh Summit South. And what a gorgeous time of year! The crisp, cool air, the leaves changing color all around in vibrant reds and greens and yellows and oranges, the rustic scent of the damp earth…I don’t even care that it’s so basic for girls to freak out about fall. I mean, can you blame us??
We had the opportunity to go on a prayer walk through the forest, a time to quiet our souls and to just be with God. As we trekked through the sea of leaves (in my Birks, which admittedly isn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had, since, I don’t know, I’m not super a fan of moist decay between my toes…), I took it all in. The dying leaves that crunched beneath my feet, so vibrant and colorful, hauntingly beautiful even in their death. The leaves, which would die away into the earth, nourishing the soil to bring new life that would sprout up in bright green little seedlings. The trees that loomed powerfully over us, strengthened by the nutrients that these beautiful deaths gave up into the earth, providing shade for the wearied traveler, a place of respite. The little flowers that bloomed along the way, a reminder that Beauty and Life are always to be found, if only we take care to look for them.
Maybe it’s the same with with our lives. Maybe it’s the same with 2016.
2016 was an incredibly painful year, not just for me, but it seems like for many. Perhaps there were many deaths, too many losses that we faced – deaths of loved ones, deaths of friendships, the end of romantic relationships, lost jobs, unmet longings, shattered hopes and dreams, the death of innocence, the death of our belief in the goodness of humanity, or perhaps it was just the age-old deaths that we haven’t yet fully grieved. And we lose heart – will this new year really be any different? Can it be?
YES, beloved. It can. Because, as painful as these deaths are, they color our world with the same haunting beauty as the vibrant colors we admire every fall. And then the pain fades, but the deaths, they’re never really gone. We absorb them into our being, and they change and shape who we are, our relationships, our dreams, our hopes, our futures. They give us fuel for our lives, a passion to burn and to live, a passion to change the world around us. They strengthen us, and we become even more immovable, better able to withstand whatever comes our way, able to provide refuge for those who need rest. We look back, and we find that Beauty and Life were there all along, though we couldn’t find them at the time.
Perhaps all we feel is the aching and we can’t see the beauty. Not yet, at least. But I believe that we will. One day. For God has made everything beautiful its time, in death and in life. For where there is death, there is new life.