By Carolyn Shields
I know, I know, isn’t Lent supposed to be the season for death reflections? Bleak February and hormonal March weather and stuff? But how can we not think about the beauty of death when the leaves are about to burst into flaming color, when our world shifts to warm colors spotting our porches with warm glow emanating and chimney smoke billowing.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 is a powerful reflection on God’s timing. It says, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for evertyhing under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to be uprooted…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
I live in an area of the country where I’m blessed to experience each season in its full splendor, and autumn always seems to be the most fleeting. For me, it’s a tough one because I know what comes after, and I don’t do well in what comes after. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the slow death of summer and all the little marks that come with it: the markets and their last harvests and corn mazes where high school kids get drunk and vulgar, the apple orchard at the foot of my mountain becoming busy, and the annual family photos we take at the cabin.
It’s so hard to reflect on dying though when we are going through it. Whatever that looks like. To self. Willingly or not. However. There’s comfort in those verses about life breaking through after death, how wild fires that ravish the earth (or your soul) only cultivates something for new growth, and so on…but slowly dying and embracing it is hard. Damn hard.
My favorite Bible passage in all of scripture has to do with just this though. Ezekiel 37, the Valley of the Dry Bones, reminds us the power in engaging with death. When Ezekiel sees this horrific vision of bones as far as the eye can see, the Lord beckons him to prophesy to them. Death might be staring at us in the face, it’s stillness is abhorring, but our God will reach into our graves and take exactly what makes us feel dead to the world and draw us back to life. And the chapter ends on this note: “I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”
God promised us eternal life, and we may have to die many, many times to get there. Yes, keep your eyes focused on the Resurrection, but don’t be afraid when you find yourself in the valley, and don’t fear the falling leaves for what it says is coming.