The Forest Set Ablaze

Autumn and the Word of God – What parables were focussed around fall?

There is something magical about walking through the woods when every leaf is turning a brilliant shade of orange and red. The warmth perceived in the colours of the leaves create the most brilliant offset to the cooler days and longer nights. As the sun sets through their canopies, they reflect their fiery colors back into our vision as a reminder that the sun’s warmth will soon return anew. 

Fall is here. The days are officially shorter and the nights, cooler. The warmth of summer has began to fade. The beautiful allegory of nature marches onward. And it’s wonder is imbedded in our creative thought and it brings us a hope of a plentiful harvest. 

The Autumn Equinox has a way of inspiring people, including myself, and giving them a melancholic joy for the time to come. It’s as if the humid fog begins to clear and though the earth may start to still, the heavens begin to come alive inn a clearer, deeper way. We begin to feel small and yet content. The metaphor of life moves around us and we are part of its esoteric dance.

Pardon the poetic prose, I just can’t help but to attempt to paint just how inspiring this season is. It brings most of us a joy that sinks into our bones, deeper than the cold and warmer than the mid-day sun. And this isn’t a new feeling. Autumn has inspired beautiful parables and poetry as long as mankind has charted the turn of the earth herself. And that is what I want to explore today. Let’s take a deeper look at how the Autumnal equinox has inspired our deeper, esoteric minds to grasp the beauty of religion in a way no other season can. Oh, and to our Southern Hemisphere listeners, bookmark this and circle back in about six months. We will get there in time. 

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Many people speak on the beauty of youth. Tight skin, thick hair, and strong muscles; the prime of life. Yet so few of us really take in the beauty of getting older. Proverbs 16:31 states that, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” There is beauty in a life well lived. Wrinkles begin to cover our faces like lines on a map reminding us of all the places we have been. Though our bodies might move a bit slower, our minds have been forged in the fires of the day-to-day living and our wisdom has taught us that slow and steady does, in fact, win the race. And I think this is a perfect place to begin.

Adam and Eve: the first fruits of earth. Brought into life from the dust of creation and the breath of heaven. Placed into a garden locked in an infinite state of harvest. Every tree bore it’s fruit. The soil need not be worked. Life flourished and death laid dormant.

All was well until that fateful day we all love to hate as if we wouldn’t have done the same. A beautiful allegory that paints not only the freedom of man and the grace of God, but also the creation of time. The symbolism in the fruit and it’s consequences lay the foundation for all of what we will explore today. With a single bite, mankind was left to work the ground. The laws of seed, time, and harvest were put into effect and we became subject to Chronos, that is, chronological time. The system in which we would all follow for the remainder of our existence here on this earth. The laws which govern our every move. The laws that even creation herself would bow down to.

The heavens and the earth echo the splendor of the Devine. From the springing forth of new life to the ripening and storing that comes in the fall, God’s majesty is interwoven through it all. And numerous historical accounts give light to this very idea.

The apocryphal book, Jasher gives an in depth look into the story of the great flood. It talks of how Noah sent her husband, Tubalcain, over the mountainside to spread the wheat seed so they would reap in the autumn that they might have enough to survive the coming winters. (And no, that was not a misspoken sentence. According to the book of Jasher, Noah was a woman.)

The Egyptian plagues we talked about in an earlier episode were inflicted over their time of harvest. No sustenance, no survival through the brutal winter. The Hebrew people created entire systems of tithe to store up first-fruits for the less fortunate and to carry them through times of lack. And of course Jesus tying it all together gave parables that mimicked these laws humanity has served.

To see the true splendor this analogy holds leads us into the teachings of Christ. Jesus knew all too well the beauty of nature’s progression and used it to help us understand God’s purpose for our lives. Every piece of art in some way mimics it’s creator. So too does creation mimic God.

Jesus taught multiple parables that spoke of the majesty that is the death and simultaneous rebirth of creation. In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of how mankind scatters their seed hastily and reaps the consequence of shallow soil and thorns.The parable of the fig tree gives us a promise that despite the passing of time, the word of God remains a constant. The parable of the growing seed in Mark adds a shroud of mystery to creation by reminding man that we do not completely understand how the patterns of the earth works but they are ultimately governed by God.

And then we have The parable of the Tares. It is said in this passage that to uproot the bad would destroy the good. That light and dark must coexist until the completion of creation’s journey. This always seems to remind me of the Yin and Yang philosophy that shows us how in order for light to exist, there must also be darkness. That seasons of life are complementary to one another and work to balance each other out. It all points back to that autumnal equinox where the days and nights become equal and the vail between the heavens and the earth seems to lift and draw us deeper into our spiritual selves. A grand irony-by-design that on this day the sun would enter into the sign of the libra – the celestial balance.

Autumn is a harmonious time in nature and it’s metaphors run deep. And while Christianity uses it’s beauty to relate to God, many cultures view it much more… literally.

In Japan, the Autumnal Equinox is celebrated with a six day festival. The Higan-e is held three days before and three days after the first day of Autumn. It is based on the six perfections, giving, observance of the precepts, perseverance, effort, meditation and wisdom. These perfections are in place to purify the sojourner before the reach the shores of Nirvana. The name “Higan” quite literally means, “other shore”. Festival Goers use this time to repent of past sins and visit the graves of deceased loved ones to pay their respects.

Many Native American tribes also celebrated this time of year. The Chumash tribe in Southern California would use this time to celebrate their birth from the Sun. They view all people as sons of Kakunupmawa, Or, “sons of the sun”. Due to equal day and night lengths and the soon progression of darkness over light, they used this time to connect their minds in unity to symbolize the importance of working together in the coming cold months.

The Celtic Druids would conduct a mock sacrifice on the equinox. They would construct a dummy made of wicker and burn it at the stake. The wicker dummy was said to house the spirit of the vegetation which, due to their worship of vegetation, was also what the human spirit was composed of. They believed fire to be the conjuring of the creator and that by offering the wicker man on the alter, they would purify their transgressions for another year. This practice is what led to the false belief that the Druids performed human sacrifice.

And of course, our history and pagan history often line up. It is easy to look at other culture’s practiced and dismiss them as false, but truth is more web-like and less linear than we would like to believe. Because even we too have festivals around the fall equinox that when looked at a bit more carefully, look a whole lot more like the druids and native-americans thank one might expect.

In Numbers chapter 29, a new festival is established in Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, one bull, one ram, and seven spotless lambs were to be placed on an alter and sacrificed to please the Lord. The Israelites were also told to take wheat ground to flour and mix it with oil to be placed over the sacrifices and burnt up as well. This offering of first fruits would please God and would provide for them atonement for their year.

A similar process would be repeated 10 days later and for 6 days consecutively just 5 days after that. And in case you were wondering, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar often falls right around the end of September; the same time as the autumnal equinox.

Christians, being a religion that has done well to adopt other practices to make the transition to their religion easy, also had a festival that coincided with the others just mentioned. In the medieval church, there was a festival called “The Feast of Michael”. Partakers would roast a fattened goose which had fed on the crop stubble left over after the harvest. Large loaves of bread would be made and everyone would enjoy the meal while giving thanks for the passing of the old and the soon birth of a new farming season.

I can’t help but draw connections in my mind between the feast of trumpets, the pagan festivals and the feast of Michael. There is just too much similarity there to be dismissed.

And Michael’s feast is still practiced in some catholic circles, but it never really took off in modern Christianity. I guess our roots don’t have enough ties to those old traditions to justify us giving it an active place in our minds, especially with Halloween not too far off and it having similar celebratory meaning.

But that doesn’t mean the Autumnal equinox hasn’t had any influence on our celebrations, at least for those of us in the United States. Because when you combine the churches festivals with Native American spiritual practices, what you end up with is a nationwide celebration of offering thanks. And while it might be a couple months off from it’s original time of practice, who can pass up the opportunity for a good meal and a little community. After all, we are all sons of the sun (Son) and I’ll let you take that whichever way you so choose.

The earth is cyclical. We enter into one season as we leave another. We change, we grow, and we return. With each death new life begins. Time marches onward and yet history repeats itself, just as the seasons always work their way around. And while many of us view years as containers, as things that have came and went, nature views years as a reconcilable orbit. Springtime brings new life, summer brings maturity, fall is symbolic of gathered wisdom and the passing of a year into the depths of winter which preps the ground for life once again.

This same cycle can be seen in all of creation: from plants to animals to people and everything in between. It can even be seen in the life of Christ himself. Just as any man He was born, He grew to a mature age, He was handed over to death, but unlike our physical bodies, He was born again putting to death the notion that death was an end and revealing that in actuality, it is simply a new beginning.

This pattern can be traced even through the Bible itself. We began in a garden full of life and abundance. We entered into a maturity where law was given and order was established. As we grew we gained a deeper wisdom of creation through eh life and death of Christ. The law became fulfilled and our once past way of living died so that this new religion based on a deeper revelation of Christ and His grace could be raised from the ashes of the old way. The church entered a time of infancy and it grew to maturity. Now, I believe we are garnering an even deeper wisdom of Christ as we work our way back to the garden: a place where our minds are free to operate in the love of Christ the way we were intended to when we were first created.

Fall connects us with a deeper part of ourselves. It unlocks a spiritual core that through the portrait of nature we can come to understand the intimacy of religion and relationship. It enables us to see beyond our here and now. It gives us the freedom to enjoy the moment all-the-while being able to gain insight into what’s to come and to know that a new season is always around the corner, so enjoy the moment because that is in essence, that’s all we ever have.

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