From the editor: October 31, 2014
The Gospel of the Leaves
Perhaps it is odd that my favorite of the four seasons for as long as I can remember has been Autumn. After all, this harbinger of winter with its dying vegetation, its falling leaves, now impresses me as just that: the end of a life cycle, which is not something any of us look forward to, and certainly even less so consciously as we grow older.
Yet that youthful appreciation of autumn came from an unspoken gratitude for the benefits of the final fullness of the agricultural cycle which is ordered to good ends: the apples in our Michigan orchards were ripe and ready for removal from the trees—some to be eaten now, others to be stored for winter, others to be pulped and milled into fresh tart apple cider. Fields yielded their final crops for our tables, piling up especially on Thanksgiving Day, when the feasting and gathered company was a place of warmth and light as the days grew dark and cold.
Even the falling leaves were accepted as gifts. Large piles of leaves became playthings, and banks of leaves were burned at the street curb, their fires always a delight to the youngsters and especially young boys.
Farmers must especially appreciate the satisfaction of the autumnal harvest. It's what they have been laboring for during their long days in the sun.
Just as the farmer labors to a good end, which he sees in autumn, the Christian disciple should be laboring to a good end—producing in his life in greater and greater abundance the true fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
James writes of the patient farmer, waiting "for the precious fruits of the earth": "You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand." The Lord comes, and his coming is often likened to that of a harvest "at the end of the age."
Our earthly mortality came to us at the Fall as a divine gift which reminds us that we are not self-sufficient, that we must have communion with God in order to live. The cycles of nature seem to reinforce this sense of mortality. I am reminded of this section from a Touchstone article on Felix Salten's Bambi by James Sauer: "Two leaves discuss mutability and the afterlife":
They were silent a while. Then the first leaf said quietly to herself, "Why must we fall? . . ." The second leaf asked, "What happens to us when we have fallen?" " We sink down." "What is under us?" The first leaf answered, "I don't know, some say one thing, some another, but nobody knows." The second leaf asked, "Do we feel anything, do we know anything about ourselves when we're down there?" The first leaf answered, "Who knows? Not one of all those down there has ever come back to tell us about it."
Sauer comments: "Not one? Well, Salten is defining the human predicament, not presenting the gospel. And as a definition of the human situation, it is marvelous. The parable goes on and achieves that brave agnosticism that is found in parts of the Old Testament Wisdom literature. There is a sad, solitary pain as the leaves fall one by one. And so we will wither; all flesh is grass. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher."
Autumn reminds us, and the death of each man confirms, that our lives come to a point at which they will yield a reckoning. It seems natural to take the measure of a man's life after his demise, for men know in their bones they are here for a purpose, even if they say otherwise.
We give a eulogy, a "good word," in this attempt. The Best Word is the euangelion, the Good News. Our hope is in the One who returned from the dead and has told us everything we need to know. That is good news.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
—James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James