Living Like a Perennial

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM,  October 15, 2017

For those who have lived through the turning seasons over many years, the signs are unmistakable and easily read. We observe trees adopting different hues, some spectacular orange or fiery red, some a subtle gold, some simply making the journey from shades of green to a dull brown. We notice black-eyed Susans spent and releasing their golden petals. We see coneflowers paring themselves down to a bristly center. Even the hardy marigolds, sensing the time of blooming is near an end, have begun to shift their energies inward.

When we live in harmony with the natural world, the season of autumn doesn’t deceive perennialdreamstime.comus. We know that what appears to be a time of dying and diminishment is anything but.  Perennials, all of which have delighted us with their greening and growing over the past six months, now are taking stock, reflecting on the remains of the season, and gathering themselves into a state of readiness for the unknown to come.

It’s the perennials, the lavender, the echinacea, and more, that catch my notice at summer’s end. For these neighbors, the questions in this time of change become: How to move from the abundance of spring and summer into the diminished supply of warmth and light in autumn? How to live in this present moment in ways that will nurture us in the stillness and darkness ahead?  What must we cultivate already now to protect our rootstock from a winter breathing unrelenting cold and harsh winds?

The questions of autumn speak to us as well. What does it mean to be perennial, to live through the years mindful of and mining the present moment? To stand at the edge of an unknown season, not knowing with any certainty what lies ahead or how many summers turning to fall we will witness again. To enter both the seasons of greening and the seasons of scarcity with audacious hope. To love extravagantly, broadcasting seeds of tenderness and compassion without calculation or assurance of return. To see beyond present and seemingly hopeless realities, affirming the potential and promise of what has been sown and trusting in the slow work of God.

At this time of harvest when we’re surrounded by the remains of flourishing lives, what do we need to lean into more deeply? Perhaps John Soos’ lovely poem, “To Be of the Earth,” might offer an entry point for our contemplative reflection year-round:“To be of the Earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed
the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain of growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
the love of being food for someone
the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons
the mystery of death and
the miracle of birth.”

May it be so, through all the years of our lives!


Center yourself in stillness.
If you live in a place where the changes of autumn are visible, spend some time outdoors contemplating the signs before you.
If you live in a place where seasonal changes don’t occur, look at photos or artwork that depict shifts in the natural world.

What do you notice?
What moves within you as you gaze?

Share this with our loving God whose presence and care abide and endure through every season.


Thank you for your prayerful support of the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA October 6-8. 

Please hold in your prayer at this time a day of retreat, October 21, that I’ll be co-leading. The day is offered for Red Cross volunteers who have been deployed in a ministry of presence, caring for the needs of others in recent and ongoing disasters in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, California, and beyond. 

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4 thoughts on “Living Like a Perennial”

  1. To broadcast seeds of tenderness and compassion without assurance of return. A friend and I, without consultation, have agreed to participate in research on a test that may give early warning of cancer. When each of us was asked what we hope to get for ourselves by doing this, “without assurance of return” could have been our answer.

  2. Chris, another beautiful meditation. Since this morning and your other post in Living Faith I have wanted to take my autumn walk and praise the lord with the psalmist in today’s readings.

    I’m in Little St Patrick’s now praying for all our intentions and in the midst of our parish gardens with echinacea, black eyes Susan’s and other perennials giving up their summer beauty and working on providing seeds for the ground and future plants next spring —all is gift– as are you!

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