Shifts between seasons can boost our ability to do spiritual retreat. For instance, in autumn, we experience a natural regrouping; many of us plan as enthusiastically during September as we do in January at the new year. Often, this is a time of assessment on many levels.
Autumn is also a time of fade-out leading to winter dormancy. Those of us who live in climates that turn cold and barren feel a definite urge to fluff up our nests and settle in for longer nights. We sense the biological urge to sleep more hours and the spiritual inclination to curl inward.
Here’s how autumn can enhance your spiritual retreat, whether it’s several days away or a few hours at home.
The dying landscape can inspire you to let go. Those summer flowers are no more. Perhaps a job, relationship, or goal is going through a sort of death in your life. You might watch leaves falling and ask, “Lord, what is falling away from me right now—something that has come to an appropriate time of ending?” A grown child leaving for college or marriage or a job states away—can you allow that falling away to happen? A role you have played, and played well, for years is shifting now—can you let it fall?
The harsher weather can send you to God for shelter. Sometimes it takes a cold, messy rainstorm to reach deep into us and rattle us from our indifference or denial. You’re rushing to get across the parking lot to the retreat house, carrying clothes and books and journals, and the sky opens, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Once inside your room, you just fall apart. This has little to do with the storm outside but everything to do with the deep turmoil you’ve been avoiding for weeks. Now that you’ve plunged into the hurt and rage, you finally have an honest prayer for God. In fact, you’re glad the gusting wind and rain are causing so much racket, because that means no one will hear your sobs and raised voice. You can turn to God and be as desperate as you need to be.
Longer nights can lead you into more consistent silence and meditation. This is especially true if you are retreating away from home and have no access to media. When the day ends, and it’s dark early in the evening, you either pray or sleep. Prayer may include reading or journaling or drawing or knitting, but it happens in a kind of closed-in quiet that can grow deep and helpful.
A new quality of air can inspire new thoughts and fresh emotions. Thank God we are physical! That crisp, spicy autumn air works on us directly. The clear sky and sharp horizon—and the saturated colors of trees and grasses—awaken us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If we give ourselves time to absorb the new light and aromas, we will feel ourselves renewed. We might generate new ideas, new plans, and new hope for how everything will turn out.
I confess that I am biased; autumn has always been my favorite time of year and the season in which my creative gifts thrive best. You might be more of a summer person. But receive whatever this season has to offer. As you reflect on the summer’s activities and your hopes for the months to come, take some time to savor the air, the color, and the soft, early darkness.