Each year, when autumn arrives, it takes me three times as long as it does in summer to walk the six blocks from my house to my favorite coffee shop because I stop for each gorgeous leaf that catches my eye. I cannot bring myself to pass by the sunrise orange elm leaves, the golden ginkgoes, and the gently browning oaks without picking them up to marvel at their majesty. My hands-down favorites are the multi-hued maple leaves, with their seemingly impossible combination of reds, oranges, and yellows against still green veins. The splendor of fall color is irresistibly attractive to me, and I always arrive at my destination with leaves spilling out of my pockets and computer bag.
The problem, of course, is that by the time the first snow flies I have quite the clean up job to do—turning out coat pockets, vacuuming out the bottom of my backpack to remove the now discolored and brittle pieces of the once resplendent leaves. As much as I want to take the rainbow of fall with me into the stark winter, every year it resists my effort. And yet each fall I begin with renewed passion, picking up leaves to bask in their magnificence. Why?
I have already hinted at the first reason: I want to capture this soul-filling beauty so that I can have it with me always (and particularly in the colorless months of a Minnesota winter). And yet beautiful things, beautiful moments are not to be captured. Think of scenes that are likely familiar to most of us (and which I confess that I have played out in my own life more often than I would like to admit!): a mother so desperately trying to coax a Christmas-card worthy smile from her two-year old at the children’s museum that she misses the creative way the child is interacting with the props; a couple in their late-20s so busy posting photos to their Instagram sites that they forget to interact with each other on a road trip; a man who finds he is thinking in 160-character phrases so that he can Tweet his life. When we focus on capturing life, we may forget to live it. The fall leaves hold a lesson for us in this regard: it may be better to stop, observe, drink it all in, and then move on, knowing that just as predictably as the seasons change, more beauty will come our way.
But I do think that I have a second, less clingy or predatory reason for stopping to examine the fall leaves: I feel called to bear witness to the loveliness of God’s creation. Really, it is an act of praise—the scanning the vista, the stooping to gather, the close attention to detail. It is a way of giving thanks to God for making such a good and beautiful world.
In some ways, human beings are like the leaves on the trees; we are part of God’s good creation. We each have a unique shape, a unique color, something that makes us lovely. And just as we may be drawn to pick up and marvel at the leaves that fall from the trees, I like to think of God moving through the world seeing each of us in all of our God-given glory. Surely God knows what our limits and faults are (better than we know them ourselves), but even more surely God also sees the great potential in each of us and treasures the shape and the color that makes each of us who we are. A favorite theologian of mine, Janet Martin Soskice, writes that we are not only loved by God, we are made lovely by God. Would that we were better able to remember that we are all lovely in the eyes of God.
Where do you find irresistible beauty in the world? How does beauty fill the soul?
What would it mean to live each day knowing that God sees you as lovely? What would it mean to live each day knowing that God sees all human beings as lovely?