Autumnal Days

“It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn.  It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire.  And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible–how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it.”
-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Tomorrow is the first of autumn.  I have always loved this season.  November, the month I love most, is coming soon.  My favorite colors are everywhere, deep, dark, and rich.  I love a dreary grey sky, the darker the grey, the better; I love the clouds and fall rain.  These are a few of the very brief reasons I give when defending fall, but if given the chance, I could talk your ear off about the season (for a perhaps unfortunate few, I already have).  So I’ve written out my whys.  I wrote, cut, pasted, pared down a sentence or two, added full paragraphs, and abridged a bit more.  Trust me, you don’t have time to read the unabridged version.

Autumn evokes “memories” of times long since past and places states away, memories that I cannot possibly have experienced.  It brings to my mind images of red school houses where the youngest children are reading from their primers, bushels of apples picked from harvest-ready orchards, hayrides that make your eyes itch and your nose run.  Sadly, none of these were a part of my childhood autumns.  I’ve lived in the same city since I was two; it’s not urban by any means, but it hasn’t been a small town in my lifetime and hasn’t wanted to.  Its childlike desire to grow up into a big city probably contributed to the lackluster fall celebrations.  But for me, such daydreams crop up at harvest time.

Autumn brings merriment and warmth, despite the growing bite in the air.  You meet the occasional grinch who gets grumpier as Christmas nears, but folks are generally cheerier at this time of year.  After all, the holidays are approaching.  All Hallows’ Eve and Reformation Day round off October, Thanksgiving summons aprons, stuffings, and pies a month later, and Advent is the first spark of the magic of Christmastime.  (Yes, I’ve celebrated Reformation Day.  I went to a Lutheran church growing up.  We marked the day with an annual Wurstfest).  Keats wrote about the season in a letter to a friend: “How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now–Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm–in the same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”  What he composed was an ode, To Autumn; read it.  I also recommend An Autumn Evening by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Any poet worth his salt ought to write on this fine season; such a wealth of imagery!  This time of year calls out to every sense: the smell of woods outdoors and spices in the kitchen; the sounds of wind, branches creaking, rustling leaves, crunching leaves, rain on the front porch, geese honking; the tartness of cranberries, pumpkin everything, cider; the feeling of wind on your cheeks, the toasty warmth when you step inside, itchy wool blankets; and, oh! I could extol the sights, the colors for pages.  Autumn affects everyone.  Here I mean ‘affect’ in the older, much less casual sense of the word; it’s poignant.  Autumn pulls at your heart.  Unless you’re Ebenezer Scrooge, something about this season will make your chest swell with joy and wistful longing, even if you can’t name the source.

Autumn makes a man think more seriously.  It brings a brisk chill to the air that either sends you indoors where you light a fire and open a book (it’s the natural progression of events), or it moves you to run to an open field and breathe deeply, allowing the cold air to fill your lungs.  The sun is generally hidden behind a hazy blanket of clouds, the air is crisp, mornings are filled with fog, everything slows down… including thoughts.  This season invites you to mull over its profoundness.  Creation speaks in hushed tones; school starts up again; the weather is perfect for curling up with a book; and there is so much glory to behold that it can stop you in your tracks.  I remember the autumn days walking on campus, I’d sometimes just have to stop walking and soak up the trees.  Always filled me with wonder, and once entering a classroom, I was in the mood to hear a lecture or discuss literature.  I don’t know the whys underneath that, but I attribute it to autumn-time.  It’s perfect for reflecting on things bigger than oneself.  Though the wind may be blustery, the silence is still.  The murky skies often look as if they are about to weep.  The whole scene strikes the soul with a sense of gravity.  As the fall grows old, we are faced with the realness of mortality.

Autumn is big. Its clouds reign with an authority that is almost tangible in the wind.  Those rich colors I love are all around, crimsons, ambers, aubergines, and burnt oranges; golden-hued leaves and gourds.  These are the colors of gems.  Autumn is regal.  But as the season progresses further toward winter and nature starts dying, there’s a sense of power relinquished.  Maybe I’m alone in this, but when all of creation, which displays so richly the glory and grandeur and majesty of God, starts dying, I am humbled.  For if such splendor must waste away and wither into winter, then surely such small creatures as we must suffer the same.

I do hope you recognize the beauty God has bestowed on autumn, even if no other aspect of the season inspires you.  Just slow down. Watch the sun gleam blood orange through the yellowing leaves as it begins to set.  Watch the misty clouds drift about, blinking out stars in a purple sky one night.  Get lost gazing into the rippling creek, if there’s one nearby.  Love these days.  They are splendid and fast-fading.

Gideon, Midian, and Weakness

The other day I said I was seeing some parallels in Gideon’s story and my own.  I see likeness not in his apostasy but rather in his initial timidity and in the way God responded to it in using him against the Midianites.

We first meet Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress “to hide it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11).  This in itself would be enough to convince me of the man’s scaredy-cat nature.  Wheat, if you’re not familiar with the process, is typically threshed in an open area so that the wind may blow away the chaff while the heavier seeds fall to the ground.  A winepress would be in a lower lying area where wind would not blow freely.  This man is so afraid of the Midianites that he is beating out wheat where the wind cannot separate it.  He’s a sissy; he’s spineless.  And in the very next verse, the angel of the LORD calls him a “mighty man of valor”.  Amusing, considering the circumstances, but I don’t think this is sarcastic.  Our God is great and gracious to mold us and has foreknowledge of our future sanctified selves (and, on the other side of eternity, our glorified selves).  Gideon, bewildered, questions of God, “please, LORD, how can I save Israel?” and the LORD replies, “I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (vv. 15, 16).  Quite an awesome promise, but very, very intimidating if for one moment you forget the first five words.  This exchange reminded me of Moses in Exodus 4:10-12, verses which have meant a lot to me these past two years.  And, jumping to verse 36, Gideon’s hesitance and doubtfulness shows itself again: “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said”… I originally expected the LORD to be angry with Gideon here as he was with Moses in Ex. 4:14.  It seemed impudent to acknowledge that God had made a promise and yet to test God not once but twice, but He gave Gideon the signs which he asked to see!  Our discussion in life group a couple weeks ago ran in circles around this for a little while until I heard the voice of the father in Mark 9:24, whose words I have prayed countless times: “I believe; help my unbelief!”  This was the first parallel I saw.  How sweet our God is to grant us faith in the midst of fear and doubt; what else could help?  With all we know of his goodness and faithfulness, encouragement sometimes just repeats what we’ve already gone over in our hearts.  I know that when I am cast down in fear and doubt, I don’t respond to most friends’ encouraging words or verses.  I know the truth of God’s goodness, that He will never leave me or forsake me, but my impudent doubt prevents me from believing in that moment the sweetness of those promises.  What I need most in those times is more faith.  And God gives it!  Thanks be to Him that He does, because I sure wouldn’t find it anywhere else if I looked under every rock on earth.  So Gideon asked God to grant him faith by showing him signs.  I get it now.

In the next chapter, Gideon and his men actually gather together to go up against the Midianites.  The LORD has made promises to Gideon, has grown Gideon’s faith, and has gathered a force of over 30,000 men in this encampment.  But he pares these numbers down, twice.  Why?  The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (7:2).  He weakens the force that Israel has amassed so that there is no way they could have claimed their own strength saved them.  Later that night, God tells Gideon to take his servant and go down into the enemy’s camp.  Verse 12 lays out an overwhelming scene for us: “And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.”  Now, if this were me, and if I hadn’t overheard the dream, I’d have been terrified to go up against this force.  Once again, Gideon sees that there is no way he can defeat this army by his own hand.  But then he hears a man recount a dream, and he hears another man interpret it, declaring that Gideon will triumph over them, and he is brought to his knees in worship.

A little more than two years ago, God called me into ministry.  He named me ‘bold’ when I was quiet, insecure, and timid.  I was bewildered.  I asked for a sign.  Eventually, I obeyed, though once there, I very often forgot those first five words of the promise: “I will be with you” (the same was promised to Moses: “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak”).  I listened to lies at times and was often overwhelmed by the feeling of inadequacy.  Some of these occasions weakened me so that I could not think that I had any hand in it.  Other times God was showing me the reality of my inadequacy so that I could rely on and trust in His perfect power and adequacy.  I have seen an increase in boldness as well as in fruit in recent months, but I have no claim to that.  I would say I don’t know where it came from, except that I do.
A friend of mine always quotes this, and I’ve been seeing it play out more and more in my life and specifically in my ministry this year:

“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Faced with my weaknesses juxtaposed with the promised victory, I have no response left except to worship as Gideon did.