Autumn Wind | Evan Underbrink: Why Ignite?

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8

In the autumn, I notice the leaves first. Then the memories. When I was very young, I can only remember once caring for the leaves. It wasn’t the first day of school, but it was that first fall in kindergarten. Looking down a crisp Colorado street, watching the wind swirl a kaleidoscope of green, gold, red, and brown into a vortex. Those leaves were destined for Fairy Land, for all my five-year-old mind knew. I know now that that moment was fixed into my brain because it was my first experience of seeing something bigger than myself, something that was in some sense real and there, and more than just me.

I find myself thinking of that memory a lot while working with the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Autumn. The gust blows, and leaves are plucked from their nurturing branch, to fly in wild abandon, ultimately left on a path determined by the invisible forces that surround each of them. Tens of thousands fall to the ground, rest, decay, and become again the good earth which nurtures the tree.

I am older, now, than when I first left my family, my support tree. My little life has blown on a mighty wind, strong as the gust which makes billowing sails of jackets and makes tornadoes of the leaves. I did not expect, on such a wind, to land at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford, Ohio. The acorns fall here, where they are bundled in the leaf-enriched earth by squirrels and time, dreaming of being trees themselves. I will be bundled up here too, for a while, and let the last year of my twenties rest in the earth, to enrich the tree that is my life; or to become a new tree, a new life, in the spring.

Some years I stayed green, fixed in needle-like fear all fall and winter. Most of these years I lived with my parents, feeling that particular shame of hanging on too long. Some years I was eaten away far too soon by indulging vices, or simply by some cruel turn from which I failed to grow. But this year, I had the time and attention to grow gold in the fall, full of the memories. When I was a teen, I had more memories of this season. I was too old, and too young, to enjoy simple pleasures like leaf piles, the rosy-red taste of cinnamon and apple. I met my high school sweetheart in the fall. I like to think I savored the autumn rains, cool and clean, and full of that dying leaf smell in our time together. We broke up in the summer, just as the wind grew cold, and carried me away to college.

We are lucky, as God’s children, to see the leaves fade and die. We get to see that our lives are such from God’s perspective. How many falling leaves have we seen? Will we see? God knows. God knows. I fear a little at 30, that I see the onrushing ground where I must eventually rest, and myself decrease to become the food for those fresh leaves I serve as youth minister. You can see reddish and brown leaves, once again stirred up by the wind, float across the ground to some new place. But the sky is for the young.

Admittedly, I am in the fullness of my life’s summer now, with many warm winds in front of me, and many behind. But I can see that the autumn is for those who are in the reaping time, the harvest of their life. My parents, the tradition bearers who smile rosy-cheeked at the grandchildren for which they pray. The writers and artists which I idolized as a child, singing warm acoustic versions of songs that were once battle cries. Nostalgia, which walks the earth in its most regal robes of red, brown, and gold.

The wind has blown us here, you and I. You, to read this little blog, and I to write it. I wish you all blessing, all honor to those in the autumn-time of life. We may remind ourselves in little whispers, that the Holy Spirit is the wind, as Jesus said. It will blow us where it will as we are its children. And ah! Outside my open window the wind breathes out its greeting. May the same wind catch you, wherever you are, and God tickle your nose and kiss your cheeks through it.