This is the time of year I love living in the Midwest, more than summer, spring or winter, which each have their own charm. But fall has a particular beauty. The landscape is alive with wonderful color, and I don’t just mean the trees in places like hilly, forested Brown County, Indiana. I mean the fields and woods that adorn the countryside.
The sunlight is softer, this time of year. And this softer light is golden, transforming the ordinary into extraordinary, helping me see the richness of life around me.
That’s why I love taking Nancy for rides around Indiana at this time of year. We get in our pick-up and drive and watch the light play across the countryside – field stubble casting shadows along the dirt, bare black tree limbs silhouetted against a royal blue sky, clouds puffy and white floating serenely along. .
I feel a sense of connectedness with the land and that sense grows stronger every year. I was born and raised in the city and I often proclaim the wonders of that existence compared to that of my country cousins. But the fact is I loved visiting the farms of our rural families. And my father was a tramper of fields and forests. We often were out and about.
That’s one reason I am happy about where I live. Seventeen years ago, the home site was a tangle of briars, thorn trees, and poison ivy all tangled in old fences. My dad, my sons-in-law, and I began clearing all that Thanksgiving weekend, getting ready for building. We worked in the rain and mud and cold and snow. We cut, we sawed, we pulled bushes out with the tractor. All through that work, I smelled the scents of farm and field – clumps of mud clinging to boots, wood smoke from burning limbs.
Then, as the house was being built, I’d hike back and work, watching the seasons move through – budding spring, humid summer. Now we’re sixteen years in the house, and watching fall ebb, knowing winter is coming.
I love it. And more than that, this move and this time of year helps me remember that I am connected to God’s good earth all the time – from witnessing it’s visual beauty to partaking of its sustenance with every mouthful of food I eat.
God’s faithfulness, to me, is evident in the changing seasons. Crops are planted, grown, and harvested. The soil rests over winter. Though the face of the earth changes, God does not. God watches over it all, and has for eons, and is faithful.
I question that at times. Sometimes when life is good, I imagine that it is good solely from the sweat of my brow or my own efforts. After all, I cut those trees and mowed the field for the view – not God – forgetting that all I have comes by the grace of God in the first place.
Sometimes I question it, out of my troubles, like Job. Like in this time of COVID. I wonder if it is true and try to understand the mind of God. Then I read God’s questions to Job – “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone -- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges?… Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.”
God asked Job these questions because it was important for Job to remember that God was not his enemy. This encounter with the Lord was not to say why Job was suffering, but to learn, by faith, that God was his Creator, Sustainer, and Friend.
This is something I forget, but the Psalmist continually reminds me that the earth does not. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;” the psalmist sings, “let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’ Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Singing trees, jubilant fields – these things we take as poetic language. Things that don’t really happen. Or do they? Could it be that the golden light that transforms field trash into something of beauty is a way the fields are being jubilant, reflecting God’s light back to him? Could the graceful, waving naked limbs of trees be hands uplifted in praise to God? Maybe that’s all bit a mystical, yet I can always use a bit more of the mystery in my lives, for my truest encounters with God are more than slightly mysterious.
Of course, what makes the countryside beautiful and rich are the memories it evokes. And inevitably entwined in those memories are people. The people in whose woods I walked. The families whose haylofts I played in – and fell out of. The folks, past and present, who molded my life. I remember Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma Bill, Uncle Johnny, Uncle Burt, Aunt Orie, cousin Ernie, and on and on. A parade of Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and pastors also march past. As do people from the present. Not a farmer myself, the seasons of my life have been blessed by a rich bounty of people, not crops. And I am richer for them all. They have been the jubilant fields and singing trees, singing “for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” They planted the seeds of faith in my life and watered them and watched them grow. Some of them – too many of them, for me -- have sung the song of harvest home. Some I get to see daily. Regardless, they all continue to bless me. They speak to me in the deepest parts of my soul.
For me, God’s land and God’s people are intricately interwoven. Even those of us who rarely venture outside the city limits are tied to the earth by strong bonds and a bounty of people. And this season is about giving thanks for that bounty to the gracious God who loves us more than we can imagine.
I came across a thanksgiving poem the other day that expresses that thought better than I am able. It’s by Max Coots and says:
Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.
For children who are our second planting, and, though they grow like weeds and wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are.
Let us give thanks; For generous friends ... with hearts ... and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbage, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And, finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.
May I give thanks, this holiday time, for golden light, good friends, and God’s graciousness. May I open our eyes to jubilant fields and singing trees. Soaring clouds, be they white or gray with rain. Winds warm or chilled by the north. People who are made in God’s own image. Let me give thanks and “sing for joy before the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”