Digging Deep and Learning to See

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 17, 2019

A few weeks ago when I heard a meteorologist announce that this was the last time we’d see the sun set after 6:00 PM, he might just as well have told me to get ready for darkness, cold, and decay. Autumn, even with all its beauty here in the Northeast, also ushers in other elements and often feels to me like only the dimming of the light, the falling of leaves, and the slow transition from the swish and crunch of gold and rust and red under our feet to piles of damp, mushy, slippery decline.boyplaying inleavespexels-photo copy

I delight in the brilliant colors of autumn, but I confess that I’ve never completely  welcomed this season. Even with decades of proof that barren fields will eventually sprout new life, that trees will bud in defiant resurrection, my tropic-loving heart would rather choose warmth and greenness and emphatic signs that life is unfolding rather than seeming to disappear. fallingleaves

But we can’t pick and choose the seasons, can we? Parker Palmer recently spoke to this sentiment and then offered some fresh thinking and a new perspective. In “Autumn: A Season of Paradox”,  he noted that, “When I try to fabricate a life that defies autumn’s diminishments, I end up in a state that’s less than human. When I give myself over to organic reality—to the interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising—the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so.” And then he noted, “…as I’ve come to understand that life ‘composts’ and ‘seeds’ us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the most difficult of times.”

Now there’s an image that could change my/our attitudes toward the visible decline that autumn underscores: compost. Though we might think of compost as merely garbage or refuse, as the things we don’t want and the things we throw out, this decayed organic matter, given the right conditions, can become something life-giving: a soil amendment that can actually improve the soil and help gardens green and grow. This decay that gardeners call Black Gold is actually sought after and valued for the ways it enhances and improves new life, so that what appears to be death-dealing is actually life-giving.

As we in the U.S. approach the Thanksgiving holiday and prepare to share our gratefulness for the blessings in our lives, I wonder if we might also want to reflect on and offer thanks for what may feel like “compost” in the life of the spirit, as Palmer does: “Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the ‘road closed’ sign turned me toward terrain I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt like something was dying, and so it was. And yet deep-down, amid all the falling, silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.”fallingleavesforest

I suspect it’s not difficult for many of us to call to mind our experiences of brokenness, failure, or feeling that we didn’t measure up or that we were not quite enough. We sometimes carry these memories very near to the surface.

But with prayer and deep, inner soul work, may we begin to look with fresh eyes at the compost in our past: a painful detour, a door closed, a dream deferred. May we learn to see how those happenings have seeded the present moment in ways we could never have imagined. May we embrace all the moments of our lives and give thanks to the Holy One who accompanies us always, in seasons of both light and darkness.


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Has there been a disappointment, a painful experience, a loss in your past?
Ask the Holy One to help you see how God was present to you at this difficult time.
What might this have “composted” and “seeded” in you?
Give thanks for all that has brought you to this present moment.

During this time of Thanksgiving, I offer my profound gratitude for your following and support of Mining the Now. Please revisit my blog post, “At the Table,” from Thanksgiving 2018 and be blessed at the many tables of your lives. 

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One thought on “Digging Deep and Learning to See”

  1. Thank you sincerely! I am striving to be more and more conscious of the graces of the ‘present moment’ and your reflections support my striving.

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