Doesn’t something magical happen in the autumn? I’m always amazed at how those of us who live in climates with four distinct seasons are always ready for the change. It’s a season that moves us from life to death. From energy to stillness. From light to darkness. It’s a beautiful rhythm of life that we look forward to with great joy and eagerness every year. I don’t know, maybe it’s the pumpkin spice lattes and scarves that get us all warm and fuzzy feeling. If those are your thing.
I’ll tell you what always gets me in the fall: community. After a hot and blistering summer of exploring and out adventuring with family, we’re all ready to begin retreating inside. Hunkering in. The daylight takes longer and longer to creep up in the mornings and the evenings are eager to cover us in darkness earlier and earlier. But with the coming darkness of winter, I always find myself reaching out towards my people. My neighbors and family, friends and acquaintances. Inviting them in and being near. Recently our house has been full of people in a scene of loud laughing, messy dishes, delicious food, poured out wine, and conversations of politics, faith, work, and kids. I become a free spirit in the kitchen, experimenting with spices and broths, vegetables and meats, absorbing each other’s flavors as I create new smell memories for my children and friends. And it doesn’t fall short on me that this moving inward and together comes during the time of year when death and darkness begins to move towards us, inching into our bright days.
Last week, a very close and dear family to us lost their father to a long and tough road with cirrhosis. We didn’t know Bruce very well, but we met him and his wife at family birthday parties, holidays, celebrations of births and baptisms throughout our friendship with their son and daughter-in-law. Walking along side our two friends who were losing him was heart wrenching. When they hurt, we too hurt. When death was drawing nearer, we ached and cried and carried their burdens. Took them pizza. Watched their kids. And we prayed. As we continued to open our doors to our other friends and family while our hearts were with our two friends who were losing their father, I kept thinking about that creeping darkness. How it closes in and suffocates. How it brings death. And how much we need our people.
The thing about death and darkness is how it lies to us. It tells us that we’re all alone. That this is all there is. And many times, lots of times, if not mostly, we believe it. We shut ourselves in, look at others and their friends and think nobody cares for me. I am alone. And so we care for ourselves. Isolating ourselves from life and community. Distracting ourselves from the need for love and nearness. However, this shouldn’t be surprising. We’re daily conditioned for independence and a rejection of covenantal relationships. Becoming personally involved and responsible for others is not something that American morality teaches us to value. And yet, despite how much we fight against it, we still long for community. Something inside of us draws us to each other. And what happens then is that communities of people expose the lie that we are alone. With food and laughter, tears and hope, we fill the darkness with light. We become eachothers arms and legs, hearts and lungs, breathing for one another, creating for one another, walking for one another, giving one another the gift of life and love in times of fear and worry and loss. What joy to be filled with joy and gladness in times of sadness.
Though, community is hard. It’s hard to find people who will love you and care for you when life turns cold and dark. Especially when we foolishly fight against it and trudge through life with control and confidence that we can do it on our own. But make no mistake, there is no other alternative to being in community. No matter how hard we try to muscle through with our independence and our phones, nothing can ever replace the sacrificial bonds of being in physical community with each other. Step out in hospitality and faith, encourage one another, carry each other’s burdens, don’t wait to be pursued, but go out and love your neighbors, family, and friends. And let the light into the darkness.