By Sister Jeanne Cmolik
I have always loved colorful autumn leaves. As a child, I would gather them, put them between sheets of waxed paper, and iron them to preserve them. Even now, when I walk in our neighborhood or in the park in autumn, I cannot resist picking up an especially beautiful leaf.
There is a certain melancholy to autumn for me: the days grow shorter; flowers and foliage offer a final burst of color and then fade away; cool weather hints at the frigid winter ahead.
I recall that in John’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
I know that the image of the grain of wheat dying and being buried in the ground—and bearing much fruit—is a reference to the paschal mystery of death giving birth to new life. So, too, the rhythm of the four seasons reminds me that change is inevitable; what was new in springtime came to fruit in summer, and now autumn reminds me that death is near.
As a Christian, I say I believe in everlasting life, yet somehow it is easier to believe in the resurrection of Jesus than in my own. Like a kid playing musical chairs, I want to hold onto the life I have until I know for sure what is coming next—and no one knows for sure what that is. Have you noticed that the dead brown leaves of some oak trees hold on until nearly spring? I know there is a logical explanation for this, but sometimes I wonder if they are simply afraid to let go.
Jesus says, “Anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” (John 12:24 in The Message)
So how do I learn to “let go of life—just as it is”?
The Prophet Muhammad offers some advice. “Die before you die,” he says. I think he is reminding me that every change I experience in my life is, in fact, a little death. I let go of what I know—what IS– without knowing what lies ahead—what WILL BE.
As someone said, “We live in a world of permanent change.” I know this, but I am still learning to trust that good things—new life—will come from change. If I pay attention, autumn can teach me to let go of what is now and look forward to what comes next.
I think about this as I look out the window of the old motherhouse in Cleveland—our center for more than 100 years—which we will turn over to St. Joseph Academy sometime next year, past the Hall building that will soon be torn down, to the new building nearing completion.
It is easy to see the leaves show their colors, drift to the ground and die, but I need to look carefully at the bare branches to see the buds hidden there—a promise of what is to come.
About the Author
Sister Jeanne Cmolik is a spiritual director, works with new members of the Congregation, and coordinates RCIA at St. Christopher Church in Rocky River, Ohio. She enjoys reading, cooking, walking in the park, and eating ice cream.