Autumn, season of earth’s maturing…asks
that we prepare for the future—that we be wise
in the ways of garnering and letting go.
— Bonaro W. Overstreet (1947)
As the daylight hours decrease and the air turns crisp, we’re reminded that it will soon be too cool to take leisurely strolls through our ordinary Edens, although I’m sure the original Paradise had four seasons! Searching the back of the closet to unearth the scarf we bought on sale late last winter, we suddenly fast-forward to a few weeks from now, coat wrapped tightly around us, face muffled against the elements, already grumbling about winter. In thirty seconds we’ve already tossed away the gift of these gorgeous autumn days without opening it. Probably because Life’s true gifts always arrive at our door wrapped in brown paper and string.
“Nature has been for me, for as long as I can remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure and delight: a home, a teacher, a companion,” Lorraine Anderson writes in Sisters of the Earth. Finally, so it is for me, which is funny considering that I spent my teenage years trying to run away from a small rural New England town, and then when I could run anywhere in the world, I chose to settle for over a decade in an even smaller English hamlet because of my love for an ancient stone cottage, an apple tree and the miraculous turning of the year.
If you’re familiar with my work you know that the sixth Simple Abundance saving grace is “Joy” and that on the Simple Abundance path of Gratitude we are urged to be willing to let go of struggle in order to learn some of our life lessons through joy. I must confess that in the last few years, I’ve often wondered who in the world wrote this pink book, for when I take my backwards glance, if I’m honest, while the easiest spiritual lessons for me have been happy ones of delight, wonder and utter amazement, they’ve been too few and far between the ones learned on my knees and damp pillow. But I’m not alone. Poets, philosophers, mystics and saints have been pointing the way towards joy for centuries, in spite of their own human disappointments.
“I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering,” the glorious American poet and fourth Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress, Louise Bogan (1897-1970) insisted. “Surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy.” And even in the depth of loss, anger and profound grief, the great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis titled his memoir of the soul’s longest dark night “Surprised by Joy” after the death of his new wife, wed late in his life.
One of my personal joys is collecting out-of-print country journals, especially from the twenties through fifties, that track the seasons of our lives through observing Mother Nature’s and Mother Plenty’s journey through the year. Today, when the Divine rhythm of life has been completely obscured by technology’s seasons of Silicon Valley, (although people have been complaining about “newfangled” since before the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution), I’m so grateful to have lived in the English back of the beyond where work began when the sun rose and finished towards the end of the afternoon, bookended by a pots of tea and other women’s thoughts on paper. There was no more comforting ritual for me than coming home to the kitchen at day’s end, to the aroma of something delicious, slowly cooking in the Aga, then drawing the curtains and turning on the soft small lights. “Simmer down now Sugar,” the Great Mother would whisper, “simmer and settle down. All will be well. After all, tomorrow is another day.” (When the Great Mother speaks she’s apt to sound like one of my favorite heroines. How about you? Don’t you love it? What wise woman do you hear in your head?)
We should have learned Heaven’s laws quickly from the seasons but it has taken us millennia and here we still are. “If the workings of cause and effect were everywhere as visible as in the world of seed and harvest, much human folly might reach a happy ending in wisdom,” Bonaro Overstreet observed in a little book of comfort, Meditations for Women: For Every Day in the Year A Day’s Worth of Spiritual Refreshment published in 1947 which is a compilation of twelve women writers’ monthly musings on the shape of the year. “A grocer, unlocking his store, exchanges a word with a passer-by, ‘Feels like winter’s coming and it’s going to be a tough one for a lot of folks—all over the world.”
I love the Old Testament’s story of Ruth, a young widow living with her mother-in-law Naomi, who was also a widow, which meant not just being poor, but destitute and homeless. However, ancient spiritual law instructed land owners that any harvest which fell to the ground, as well as the four corners of each field were to be left for the poor and hungry to “glean” or pick up. Ruth would follow the harvests to gather up the bounty of goodness left behind as she worked for them both. It’s a wonderful Biblical parable (Ruth 1 and 2) which reveals something new every time I read it.
The subject of “gleaning” was an especially fertile source of inspiration for Victorian artists coming after the land was abandoned and families moved to the city to find work. One of the most famous paintings of this tradition is “Gleaning” which is often attributed to the Pre-Raphaelite English painter, Arthur Hughes (1832-1915), although recent art scholars believe it was another Hughes, either his son Arthur Foord Hughes, or nephew, Edward Robert Hughes. But whoever captured the blessing of gleaning, it still speaks to us today. We need to pause and realize that our own hearts will always remain hungry, even if we are the honored guests at the world’s banquet, as long as we ignore our souls’ knowledge of any mother’s prayer and pleading to feed her children.
But we also need to realize that “gleaning” is meant to be a blessing, however we may encounter it and all of us must in some way; whether we visit thrift shops, hunt for berries in an English bramble, refinish an rubbish bin table or depend on the kindness of strangers at a food bank because of unexpected circumstances. There is no shame in the blessing of “gleaning”, sweetheart, only love, for if there is a Gift, then surely there must be a Giver and we are not alone. As we reap and sow, we also learn to glean and then, give back.
This September I know that I must also glean in my private moments; wandering through the golden fields of acceptance, grace and gratitude searching for my happy memories among the sheaves of wistfulness. Finally, time has done her perfect work and I am able to let go of regret and remorse, so that I can begin again. I leave yesterday’s English brambly apples for others. Today I choose to cherish my California dream of orange, lemon and lime trees, and hay, the fragrance of my future. A citrus orchard next to a stable. There’s an apple in my pocket for the horse waiting for me to find her and bring her home to a new pasture. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know it includes a horse and where there’s a horse, there is a stall in a barn and a paddock and me. Excited to be on my way again, and start a new life by cleaning up the barn. Oh yes, for if there is a Gift, then there must be the Giver eager to shower creatures both great and small with joy. It makes me smile just to write these words. Please believe with me and I will believe for you and we both know what happens when two women agree that something must be done.
The world has always divided the kingdom of Earth between the haves and haves-not and it’s not going to stop anytime soon, so we must be willing and able to help each other. But the blessed Sisters of Mercy, the heavenly Saving Graces, and our Mothers Nature and Plenty, have been lavish with their hidden bounty left behind in our sad, lonely and abandoned places. Still, it is up to us to distinguish between the bitter and the sweet, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, for all the goodness we can glean and gather in.
Weeping may endure for even seasons of our lives, darling reader, but if we’re just willing to be open to receive, those clenched fists will unfurl and we can be surprised by joy. My prayer for you this week is a new well-spent moment for your Gratitude Journal. Please share your joy with me and other kindred spirits by following the conversation here and on Twitter and Instagram. Blessings on your courage and sending my dearest love,
XO Sarah Ban Breathnach