David Cole (Brother Cassian) author of numerous books on Celtic Christian spirituality, reflects on the Autumn equinox (23 September), when the hours of light and darkness are perfectly balanced.
There are some things which, in modern society, many find elusive, hard to gain and even harder to maintain. One of those things is balance. Whether that be our work/life balance – making sure that that which we do to make a living is balanced with being able to do what we feel life is worth living for; or inner balance with outer balance – the ‘being’ and ‘doing’ elements of our lives.
We find balance hard to grasp, let alone keep.
Twice a year the natural cycles of creation remind us of this balance, and some of what we can do to keep it. Twice a year the movement of the sun (technically the Earth, but it is simpler to see it from where we are standing: on the earth looking at the sun) places the amount of time it is above the horizon and the amount of time it is below it as equal. These two moments in the year are the Equinoxes – Spring and Autumn.
The Venerable Bede, most famous for writing his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, also wrote other books. One of those is called The Reckoning of Time. In this book, as I mention in the introduction of my book The Celtic Year (BRF), Bede tells us that the Solstices and Equinoxes were times kept as significant by the churches and monastic centres, following the ways of the church Fathers (by which he probably meant the Desert Fathers). We can see from various aspects of the history of ‘Celtic’ and Anglo-Saxon life that there were celebrations around these festivals. So what did they celebrate? What did they focus on? Unfortunately, the specifics of these festivals have been lost to the process of time, but what we can do today is to continue to remember these times and hold them as significant sacred moments in the turning seasons which the Divine created. The movements of the sun, moon, and stars have always been, as Genesis 1 says, to ‘serve as signs to mark sacred times’ (NIV).
Hold them as significant sacred moments in the turning seasons which the Divine created.
So what can the Autumn season teach us about balance?
One of the things which happens in Autumn which helps keep nature in the cycle of balance is abscission. Abscission is the name of the process of deciduous trees dropping their leaves. The reason for this, as you probably know, is because as the light becomes less, the trees need to focus on the nutrients in the ground, as they get less goodness and life from sunlight.
These once full leafed trees begin to let go of their leaves to enable them to maintain the life and health which they have had through the summer. The full canopy of leaves in the summer was gloriously life giving, but if they tried to hold on to those things now, in the changing season, they would actually cause harm and even death to themselves. There is just no longer enough energy being given to the trees through the leaves for them to keep hold of them. That which was once glorious and life giving must now be let go.
This is an important lesson for us –
sometimes there are things in life which, in their season, are glorious and life giving, but as life’s seasons change, we need to let go of them, even if we like them.
If we tried to hold on to them they would actually cause harm and even death to some aspect of our inner selves or our community, or our church.
The practice of detachment – the human equivalent of abscission – helps us maintain our balance and inner equilibrium. Letting go of things in life that we should no longer hold on to keeps us balanced.
Is there anything which you have been holding on to which you may need to let go? Here is a guided meditation which might help: Letting Go of The Things You Fear to Lose | David Cole, Insight Timer
At this time of the Autumn Equinox, as we see the leaves fall from the trees, remember, ‘He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing – detachment’. Meister Eckhart.
David Cole/Brother Cassian
The Celtic Year
Following the ancient rhythm of the Celtic year, these prayers, meditations and liturgies will help you focus on the natural flow of life as it changes around you.
Based on the eight points of the Celtic year – the four season changes, and the four midpoints of each season – and moving from winter to spring, summer and harvest, each of the eight sections includes a liturgy for a full service, a week of daily readings, guided contemplations and a selection of prayers and blessings.