The Lure of Changing Seasons
by Jeanyne Slettom
After 14 years of living in California, it is good to be back in Minnesota, a part of the world where seasonal changes are strikingly apparent, each inviting a different kind of reflection.
What I like about seasonal change is that it is not just a useful reminder to change our wardrobes. It is also an invitation to change our metaphors—the language and images we use to understand ourselves, the events in our lives, the relationships that sustain us, and the subtle ways the Spirit seeks us out and engages us. It gives us a wider range of images from nature to explore the inner terrain of our own lives and to glimpse however partially the vastness of the divine.
I live on the Mississippi River. Not surprisingly, the house is oriented to the river view. The street side, ostensibly the “front” of the house, is plain, decidedly lacking in curb appeal. Of the two views, it is the river that commands priority, the river that snags my attention and draws my reflections.
There is a magnificent tree across the street from us in our neighbor’s yard. It is high—twice the height of the house whose yard it graces—and its leafy branches are beautifully shaped. In the summer, I did not pay it any more attention than to pause from time to time and admire the shape and perfection of its foliage, or watch the wind moving through it.
Then in early September, I looked out the window and saw a shock of orange high up in its branches. It drew my eye and held it, this burst of color near the top of the tree, signifying the approach of autumn. As weeks have gone by, the color has jumped around in the tree like flames, igniting one section and then another, finally leaping to the lower branches. But even as the dominant color remains a deep green, the fiery orange is slowly advancing.
So I find myself now betwixt a river and a tree, each one tugging at my attention. The river speaks of flow, water that “just keeps rolling along.” The tree speaks of dynamic change. Each image is processive, but one is endlessly flowing and the other is cyclical; one suggests eternity, the other, a circle of life, death, and renewal.
As metaphors, they tug and pull at each other, tossing in contrasting and even self-contradicting images of stasis and change, rootedness and flow. They reach out to each other, heedless of my house in between, and overhead sing their own complex dialectic along an invisible power line, an oscillating tone of roots and current, constancy and change. And they suggest a shared bass tone deep underground, like the low drone of a bagpipe, as both river and tree are fed by the same ancient aquifer.
Both river and tree give us metaphors for self-understanding; our brilliant bursts of color, our grieved losses, our dormant periods where only faith whispers of the buds within us, waiting for the right conditions to emerge. Or the part of us that flows inexorably to the sea, fed visibly by other rivers and streams and secretly by other aquifers whose gifts are felt but unseen.
Both river and tree are also glimpses of a Divine Love that is rooted in and flows throughout creation. Love experiences bursts of creativity and the pain of loss. Love lives in dormant branches as the promise of transformation. It operates through the visible world of tributaries and the unseen world of aquifers. Divine Love feeds the river throughout its journey and, as ocean, welcomes the river into its immensity. There river-memory continues to flow in ways now unseen, but no less present.
The Talmud says uninterpreted dreams are like unopened letters from God. Perhaps the same can be said of metaphors sown by seasonal change. Left fallow, they are unripened seeds from God. But once evoked, they are creative bursts of the Spirit, opening us to previously unheard oscillations singing overhead—oscillations that encourage us to shift from our preferred view, to recognize there is an Other, and that such vibrations are the calculus of the universe to which we also thrum.