By Vinita Hampton Wright
This reflection, along with other Ignatian prayers, poems, reflections and art, first appeared in our free e-book, “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: Through the Year with Ignatian Spirituality.” Sign up to receive it at jesuits.org/ebook.
September 22, 2022 — It’s tempting to become nostalgic about the changing seasons, but I prefer these days to be attentive instead. For instance, as I observe autumn, how might it speak to me?
Autumn reveals the season after fruitfulness.
The luscious farmers’ markets are dying down as plants cease producing. The multi-green bloom of the landscape has lost it rich, moist glow as leaves and grasses begin to dry. We can no longer walk down a garden row and take joy in ripe, colorful fruit. We see this change as fine in nature, yet we panic when entering a time of little or no fruit. We’re not as productive as we’d like to be. Processes aren’t bringing the results we want. Our prayer life feels as if it’s drying up. What’s WRONG? There’s a good chance that nothing is wrong. We have entered a tapering-off time, that’s all. Often, we experience this after a period of hard work and productivity. It never occurs to us that perhaps it’s time not to focus on fruit but on rest and replenishment.
Autumn reveals the harvest.
In Ignatian spirituality we refer to “savoring the graces”: pausing to enjoy fully the gifts we have received. We are encouraged to return to prayer content that has helped us. Jesus is saying, “You were uplifted by that psalm? Well, go back to it!” It’s a habit of celebration. Especially when living in a culture that focuses on productivity and monetary profit, we can fail to enjoy what we’ve already produced. Did we manage to spend good time with family over the summer? Then let’s spend time now reliving those good memories and thanking God for them. Did we finish a tough project this year? Then let’s find a way to celebrate. I’ve been writing books for 20 years, and I have learned to give myself a day or two when the book is published to carry it around with me, read parts of it, show it to my friends and family. Jesus has taught me to take pleasure in the work of my hands.
Autumn strips the landscape to prepare for new growth.
Many of us do a major sort-and-pitch in the autumn. It makes sense that, as the landscape is stripped of its leaves, we feel compelled to strip ourselves of what is no longer full of life. We get rid of physical stuff we don’t really need; we free the calendar of commitments that no longer fit us; we trim our long to-do list, relieving ourselves of goals that simply aren’t important now.
Autumn invites us to regather our memories.
For me, autumn often becomes a “thin place” in which I feel close to earlier versions of myself, to loved ones who have died, to other autumns I have lived. As if time has a little warp in it, and I could be 14 again, or 35 again. This may be a simple, physiological reaction to the scents on the air that bring me back to other times when I have smelled wood smoke, the first sharp aroma of autumn air or a pumpkin pie just out of the oven. It doesn’t matter if these feelings are triggered by my nose or my soul: They provide an opportunity to do an autumn Examen. Because I remember more vividly being 14, I can give thanks for the gifts of that time. Because pumpkin pie brings Grandma back to me, I can celebrate having had her in my life.
Smell that autumn air! And allow it to stimulate your prayer.
Vinita Hampton Wright is an editor, writer and spiritual director. She lives with her husband in Springdale, Arkansas.